Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Rather Blustery Day

I grew up in a house where you fished in the spring and summer, hunted in the fall, and spent the winter hoping that spring would hurry again. Consequently my days fishing in the colder months of year have been few and far between. So when the opportunity arose this week to combine a work day with an hour or so of fishing the Bighorn, I had to jump at the chance.

The weather finally climbed back into the upper 30s, but wind has a way of ruining drift and makes casting a practice in futility. And dare I say that changing leader and tippet in the middle of a gust is not the most pleasant experience, though it begs the question, "should I keep my gloves on and have no dexterity in this delicate maneuver or take them off and watch my wind-chilled hands struggle to grasp leaders and flies?" On a day like this, even mending the line in the drift produced interesting developments. I kept looking for a remote control to turn the wind down just long enough to make my adjustments.

Though we caught a few fish, my actual fishing time probably lasted about 45 minutes, and my partner soon grew weary of battling the elements. The sandwiches back in the truck tasted so good and even the lukewarm sports drink went down smoothly. With the wind now locked outside the vehicle and the Ford heading back up the road past fields filled with thousands and thousands of geese, we lamented the fact that we’d had the day cut short.

Then we laughed at ourselves, remembering that we were fishing in January in Montana—that very thought filled with wonder: wonder that anyone would dare fish in the coldest month of the year, and wonder that we live in such a place that such irrational behavior is, in fact, quite logical.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Survivor

When I interviewed Don Laubach, a businessman and seasoned big game hunter from Gardiner, MT, I asked him what his dream hunt was. He matter-of-factly replied, "My next coyote hunt". And, I guess I see why.
Coyotes in Montana can be found nearly everywhere, from the brushy river bottoms to the rugged mountain ridges. They are active, always looking for their next meal. Often referred to as "surviviors", they are as sporting as hunting gets.
This past coyote hunt, we had better luck than one can usually expect hunting coyotes. Four different animals came into the wounded jackrabbit call and only one left, now an older and wiser creature. They used all of their senses coming into the calls, pausing at times to listen, positioning themselves downwind, and watching for any unusual movement. I have been told that if you can kill one out of four coyotes that respond to your calls, you have been fortunate. So, I know our luck will run out. When it does, another survivor will be created.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Partners in Crime

Good hunting and fishing partners are tough to find. In addition to sharing similar hunting or fishing ethics such as whether you’ll fully endorse catch and release policies, your beliefs on the use of mechanized waterfowl decoys, and whether you like steak or ground beef in your pasties, this has to be a guy you can fully trust and with whom you can enjoy spending time.

I feel fortunate to have a number of good hunting and fishing pals. Two of them are brothers, and they are as different as night and day. Without a doubt I can say that if I were lost in the woods and our very survival depended on my partner, I would choose Kevin 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. But if our rescue was only a matter of time or nonexistent, I’d sit there on a log and listen to Pauly all day long.

Pauly is the entertainer; I’ve watched him fly headfirst out of boats trying to help a fisherman net a big fish, he has the best stories in the duck blind, and the ride to the hunt and back are full of jokes, stories, and comical musings. I floated part of the Smith River with Pauly and between our hitting rocks and missing fish I was constantly in the company of a great sportsman.

Kevin is the survivalist; as a high school senior he wanted a water purifier for Christmas and when stranded on a river island during a January goose hunt, he simply stripped down and swam across the ice-filled river channel to retrieve the errant canoe. And it was Kevin who patched the raft the day after Pauly and I bounced down the Smith.

Life is too short to hunt and fish with guys you feel lukewarm about. And by the way, I like my pasties with ground beef.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cold Duck

This is the only time of the year I get somewhat serious about waterfowl. Owning wimpy pointing dogs limits your hunting to mostly upland birds. Which is fine. But, I always enjoy getting out this time of the year; the waterfowl season extends into January, the winter wonderland is beautiful, and I enjoy the taste of mallard.
But, would it have to be this cold? Especially when I am my own retriever and my old neoprene waders seem to have lost a battle with a barbed-wire fence at some point.
The game is completely different from the one I played all autumn with my setters. Instead of the dogs finding the birds, the birds have to find me and my meager spread of two decoys. All fall, I watch my dogs, now I watch the sky. I even put my little 20 gauge into the safe and break out the 12 gauge pump.
I will never claim to be a waterfowling expert. But, I sure enjoy the little taste of it I get each January.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One Last Hunt

It is with two tired dogs and a heavy heart, that I write this as the sun just set on another Montana bird season. There is so much to be thankful for this past season: a couple of great blue grouse hunts in September, where we shared the high-country with no one but the elk and mule deer. While the pheasants, sharptail and Huns were down slightly in central Montana, the birds seemed to be thicker in some of my haunts in northern and eastern Montana. Dad fully recovered from his previous ailments and can still outwalk anybody I know. Tess and Abby are no longer projects, but both cherished hunting parters in the field.
Regardless of the positives, I still hate the thought of putting away my bird vest and shotgun for another eight months. So, while I hesitated to leave the house this New Year's Day, I knew I had to. Icy roads, deep snow in the field and my concern for the birds themselves (who are now in winter survival mode with 12+ inches of snow on the ground), were overshadowed by my need for one more try. One more day for the dogs to see their orange collars and jump up and down in the kitchen. One last day of a watching my girls work the grass and thickets, doing what they love to do-doing what never lasts forever, for any dog. Tonight they sleep, waiting for their next, first day.