Montana Outdoors

October 17, 2007

For its elements

I like this photograph, not because it’s a great photograph but because of the elements of the natural process that it contains.

The tree trunks are black from the fire in 2002 which killed about 50,000 acres of the forest which is sad, but:

  • New green pines can be seen which in due time will replace the dead ones and the clump of willows provides cover and food for the animals.
  • The blow-downs in the foreground will decompose and return nutriments to the soil.
  • The standing dead trees for several years now have been providing a renewable and economical energy source for many of us to use in heating our homes.
  • The traces of red are the fall color of huckleberry bushes which took advantage of the openings to the sky and are now growing where they could not grow before.
  • In the burned areas after a fire, the low growing grasses and shrubs provide excellent food for wildlife, and these four Mule deer are typical of those who use it to their advantage.
  • The bare, tan-colored stalks in the foreground are the stalks of bear grass which have provided beautiful summer blossoms in the burn area ever since the first summer after the fire.

Nature is quietly doing what She does so well.

Siegel Creek burn area

(This setting is at an altitude of about 6,000 feet in the burn area of the Siegel Creek fire of 2002. It is in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of western Montana.)

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September 21, 2007

How are your eyes?

Filed under: Hunting, Montana, Mule deer, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 8:09 pm

This afternoon I spent a few pleasant hours visiting one of my favorite places, one I call “Mule Deer Heaven”.

A good Mule deer hunter would have seen this mulie doe right away upon arriving at this spot on the trail. She’s approximately in the center of this photo, which represents almost exactly what was seen by the naked eye . If you were unable to pick her up at a glance, you might be called a “vegetarian” in this part of the woods. (“Vegetarian” is an old Indian word that means “bad hunter”.)

Mule deer country

This photo was taken from exactly the same location, but using 12X zoom.

Mule deer doe

And this one is a cropped version of the previous one to give a better look at the pretty little gal.

Mule deer doe

As she lays there in her little shady spot during the day, resting up so she can spend the evening hours with the buck of her choice, here is the scene she has before her.

Clark Fork Valley

June 12, 2007

Mulies!

Yesterday on a trip into the upper Siegel Creek area (wood cutting was my excuse this time) I found the Bear Grass in full bloom. After tiring myself out taking 40-some photos of it (I’ll post some of them later), I decided to take a break and cut a load of wood when I noticed a flash of movement higher on the mountain and found I had a couple of visitors. After a rather clumsy stalk, I got into camera range of this pair, a doe with her last year’s son still in tow. Notice the huge ears: that’s why they have the title “Mule” deer.

Mule deer doe.

Mule deer doe.

Mule deer yearling buck.

Mule deer buck (yearling)

Mule deer duo.
Mule deer pair.

I have always thought the mule deer choose to live where they do because of the scenery. They like high open places with great views to the south. This is the view of the Nine Mile drainage that these two enjoy every day. About a mile to the left of where the photo was taken is the edge of the Reservation Divide roadless area. (For perspective, the photo was taken at 6,000 feet elevation, and the sharp peak at the skyline, center, is 20 miles away and 7,400 feet.)

Nine mile drainage.

Nine Mile drainage.

May 10, 2007

May wild flowers, Part 3

Filed under: Flowers, Montana, Mule deer, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 11:31 pm

Mother Nature has by no way completed her spring kaleidoscope of color, but she has outpaced my limited ability to identify all of them. For example, I used to think that this common flower was Blue Camas, but I now think I was wrong. As close as I could come was perhaps a species of hyacinth. Anyone?

Hyacinth?

After receiving a lot of help from Adam R. Paul and aullori, this flower was identified as the Wild Hyacinth Brodiaea douglasii. I’ve added this close-up of it:

Wild Hyacinth Brodiaea douglasii

Or this one, that I would guess is one of the 20 or so species of Monkeyflowers. I especially like the “ky” monogram on its petals.

Monkeyflower?

This one I’m sure of: the Death Camas. Its bulbs contain the highest concentration of alkaloids, such as zygadenine, and cause such symptoms as muscular weakness, slow heartbeat, subnormal temperature, painful stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive watering of the mouth.

Death Camus

My wife said this picture caused her to sneeze. While the spring blossoms of the sage are pretty, their pollen is really tough on anyone with allergies. It is, however, a very beneficial plant for the deer population, and during many of the very hard winters may be the only food source available to sustain mule deer. Extreme pressure on the environment by coal-bed methane exploration and production in Wyoming has caused the loss of much of the sage brush in some areas and a decline in the mule deer population has been the result.

Sage

April 9, 2007

“Where the deer and the antelope play”

Filed under: Antelope, Montana, Mule deer, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, White-tail deer — montucky @ 8:53 pm

In contrast to the mountain scenery that I love so much, there’s another side to Montana; the huge plains east of the divide. Every October I travel to the east side for an antelope hunt, and while I consider the mountains around my home to be nearly unparalleled in beauty, the vastly different scenery of the plains has its own appeal.

The Musselshell river valley with the Beartooth Mountain range (at the north border of Yellowstone) in the background:

EM4
It’s because of views like this that Montana is known as the “Big Sky” state. (Looking east toward the Dakotas.) This is 350 miles from my home near the Idaho border.

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It’s no wonder that the survival strategy of the antelope utilizes excellent vision and incredible running ability.

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There are occasional breaks in the amazing flatness of this land, but little to provide cover or hiding places for them, and yet the number of animals living here is astounding. While simply driving along a 50 mile stretch of US Highway 12 on my last trip I counted 149 deer (both white-tails and mule deer live here) and 175 antelope.

EM3

While our camping area in the low land along the river does little to shelter us from the incessant wind, it is certainly easy on the eyes!

EM2

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.

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