Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Montana Muley

As the Montana general big game season nears its conclusion there is always a sense of urgency to get out and make the most of the remaining days afield, after all next season is a long way off.
This is a great time of year to be out under the big sky, and many of us at MSJ have been out conducting some "field work". I just returned from a few days of mule deer hunting in the eastern part of the state, chasing love struck bucks through sage flats and coulees. Our camp went 4 for 4 on mule deer bucks. No B&C trophies, but respectable, hard earned bucks.
On the last day I had to hunt I spotted a big bodied buck chasing a doe along a ridge. I had passed on bigger bucks earlier in the hunt, but at this late hour he was looking good. After quickly cutting the distance between us I peered over a rise and there he was just 200 yards away. I promptly found a solid rest, took a few calming breaths and squeezed the trigger - putting an end to the mule deer chapter of my '08 hunting season.
Now its back to the office for a couple of days returning voicemails and emails before finishing out the '08 season in elk camp...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"May B Late. Dad Has Elk Down"

Those were the simple words I sent via text message to family and friends, from a high-elevation location in central Montana. While text messaging may be a preferred method of communication for teenagers, it was a handy way to tell people that were waiting on me, that I may not show up on time that evening.
The 5 x 6 bull that was down was a decent animal, especially for a day hunt on public land in this part of the state. It was the result of some fair knowledge of the area, some timely weather, and a little luck.
We left town at dawn, the overnight snow making for some terrible roads, but also some perfect tracking snow. We headed to an area where we had seen elk on previous hunts. Twenty minutes of walking the boundary between private and public land, we found fresh tracks. The luck was in the fact that these elk had just crossed from private land, onto public, giving us a chance to sneak on these elk in the quiet, powdery snow. For the next four hours, we would be "in elk". The first sightings, were just that: only glimpses of hide, no sign of antlered animals. The second run-in, Dad saw the rack of a bull, but only had a rear-end shot, and passed. Finally, the shot an elk hunter waits for all season presented itself: a 75 yard shot, at an antlered bull, in open timber, broadside. Success.
The returned text messages all conveyed the same thing-Good Job, Way To Go, and Enjoy Packing It Out. Well, we did. As every elk hunter knows, it can be a long time until your next bull elk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Elk Hair Caddis

"Going elk hunting are ya?" hollered my neighbor as he peered from under the hood of his Buick. It was an astute observation based on the dozen trips I'd just made from my house to the truck with the necessities for an extended hunt in the high country. When I emerged from the shack with a final load of gear my well-meaning and all-knowing neighbor took notice of the contents clutched in my arms. Audibly prying himself from the confines of the engine compartment and portraying a perplexed look he stammered, "I thought you were going hunting." I explained that the reason for the waders, rod, net, and etc. was that I was actually going fishing, but first needed to secure some material for a few elk hair caddis patterns. As he shook his head and reacquainted himself with the intricacies of the internal combustion engine I realized that my attempt at humor was lost on him. The brief exchange would probably only provide fodder for the "odd neighbor" conversation that was sure to follow over dinner with his wife that evening.
My route to elk camp, via Hwy 89, would be taking me near a favorite piece of trout water, close enough to justify a detour, hence the fishing equipment. That afternoon of fishing was time well spent with several browns up to 18" aggressively striking just about any streamer I threw at them, dead drifted or stripped. The browns were decked out in their fall colors, although I saw only the occasional redd. There was no let up in the action and as I worked my way upstream I realized that the overcast sky and absence of a time piece along with the good fishing, had conspired to keep me on the water much longer than I had intended. After one last cast I was back in the saddle with snow capped peaks filling the windshield as I wound my way up the road to elk camp. For those interested, this fishery was covered in the Mar/Apr '07 issue of MSJ (see web store to purchase back issues).
Its fortunate that my fishing success didn't hinge upon my ability to obtain a supply of tying material for elk hair caddis. After hunting hard and seeing lots of game, including elk, I left the mountains empty handed. Before November and the elk season have run their course, I'll return to hunt the high peaks and ridges, undoubtedly making a detour along the way to fish a favorite trout stream in its fall glory.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Local Advantage

11/2/08 In an era where hunter access to the land is often mentioned as the primary concern for many, it is nice to know that some things haven't changed in Montana.
This weekend for example, I hunted with Scott Kanning, someone who grew up on a wheat farm in rural Montana. This part of the world is where everyone knows each other by name and you are only judged by how hard you work, not the car you drive or the size of your home.
The weekend hunt involved a lot of visiting with neighbors, a lot of shaking hands and drinking coffee, even when you didn't want to. At times, I was kicking at the dirt, worrying that we were wasting precious hunting time. But, I gradually relaxed as we had plenty of ground to hunt with no competition. The weather was great, the birds were plentiful and the dogs did what they do best. But, most of all, I enjoyed the people who live here; they live in a simpler place and are very willing to share it. Thanks a lot.