Category Archives: Leisure

Believing that a life properly lived includes the deliberate pursuit of recreation and relaxation, here you’ll find a junk drawer mix of comments and thoughts on the things we enjoy in Montana’s Big Sky Country: eating, sightseeing, photography, hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing, and more.

The Gift

It didn’t come from under a Christmas tree. It didn’t come wrapped in colorful paper. It wasn’t even a tangible gift, although it was just as real and wonderful and exciting as the dawn of a new day. The gift was given to me by my father, back in the carefree days of my youth. His gift was a love of the outdoors.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

Some of my best childhood memories are of times spent camping with my family next to a whispering stream, and waking up on crisp mountain mornings to the smell of frying bacon rising from a cast iron pan strategically placed over a cheerful campfire. And then there were those times Dad would wake my little brother and me in the middle of the night for a long drive in the dark to arrive at first light at a trout lake. There we would slide a homemade rowboat from the top of the family bus and into the lake, and push off into the morning mist just as the sun winked above the tops of clean-scented evergreens. Most mornings we would fill stringers with pan-sized trout, gleaming trophies for a kid to take home and proudly share with the rest of the family.

The gift of the love of the outdoors is not something meant to be kept to yourself. It’s meant to be passed on, and it isn’t reduced by the sharing; it multiplies and brings joy to others. I’ve passed the gift along to my children, and they in turn are passing it on to theirs. In all of this the gift has come full circle and returned to me, bringing fresh joy to my life, like wildflowers suddenly encountered along a mountain trail.             

As Priscilla Wayne once noted, “…appreciation is the food of the soul.” What is it about the outdoors you appreciate?

You can comment here, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

In Praise of Cast Iron

I  respect copper, I appreciate Teflon, but I LOVE my cast iron cookware!

Copyright Mike L Raether

Check out the advantages –

  • Lasts virtually forever
  • Retains heat
  • Adds a small amount of iron to your diet
  • Can be placed in a hot oven, even used for cooking one dish meals
  • Once properly seasoned, cast iron has a non stick surface

The rub is that last bullet point. How do you properly season cast iron to get that famous non stick surface? And once having obtained that non stick surface, how do you retain it?

How to properly season cast iron –

Start by washing inside and out with warm water and a mild detergent. Dry thoroughly. It’s a good idea to place the cookware on a stove top  burner set to low for a few minutes to make sure all moisture is driven off. Next, using a paper towel rub a small amount of cooking oil (less is more) on the inside and outside of the pan. What kind of cooking oil? Vegetable, olive, and melted shortening all work equally well. Lastly, place the pan on the center shelf of a cold oven and  heat to 375 degrees – give or take. Set a timer for about an hour, and turn off the oven when the time is elapsed. Let the oven cool with the cookware still inside. Remove the cookware when cooled.

How to retain the seasoning –

Most important: Do not wash! Even mild soap and water can degrade the non stick surface. Simply wipe clean with a paper towel. Isn’t this a little unsanitary? Perhaps. But what’s gonna live on a hot cast iron surface? If food sticks, use a scrapper such as the one made by Pampered Chef (no, I don’t own stock or get a kickback).

Lastly: You may have to repeat the seasoning steps to improve the non stick surface.

Oops. One more lastliest thing. They don’t make cast iron cookware like they used to. Your best bet for obtaining quality cast iron is garage sales, flea markets, swap meets and so on. Most important thing to look for (other than a sweet deal) is a smooth cooking surface. Some of today’s cast iron cookware has a pebbly cooking surface with just about defeats the non stick advantage.

So what do you think of cast iron cookware? Got any good tips or tricks? You can leave a comment here or even subscribe.

 

 

How Do I Love Thee, My Pack Goat?

The news from the doc wasn’t encouraging.

“You’re done carrying 50 pound packs, splitting wood, and packing out game on your back. You’re wearing out your spine. Keep it up and you’re looking at another back surgery. I don’t want you lifting over 25 pounds.”

Yeah, right. I’m an outdoorsman, okay? Carrying a heavy pack, splitting wood, and packing out game on my back is what I do. But that first surgery hurt much more than carrying a heavy pack, splitting firewood, and carrying out game on my back. I sure didn’t want another back surgery. So…

“Grover” – photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

Enter the pack goat.

For some time I’d been intrigued with the idea of goat packing. Goats have many advantages over other types of pack stock. True, you can’t ride them and they can’t carry as much weight at llamas, mules, and horses but as far as I’m concerned, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

How do I love thee, my pack goat? Let me count the ways –

  • I don’t need a big stock trailer. Goats can be transported in the back of a pickup, but personally I use a little half ton trailer with extended sides.
  • Goats can carry up to 25% of their weight. My pack goat weighs about 165 and carries about 40 pounds. That’s 40 pounds on his back instead of mine. I like this idea. A lot. As some pack goats can go over 200 pounds, this means 50 pounds or more on their backs instead of yours.
  • I don’t have to shoe my goat or even trim his hooves, as long as we hike enough. A goat’s  hooves wear down pretty fast on a hard trail.
  • I don’t have to pack feed. Goats eat just about anything (except tin cans), although they do like a handful of grain as a treat.
  • Goats usually don’t buck or bite, but they might nibble on your shirttail to see if it’s edible.
  • They’re affectionate, but they have bad breath. Goat burps are stinky. Then again, so are human burps.
  • They’re easy to keep. Currently my pack goat lives in a 16X48’ enclosure using 50 inch tall cattle panels. In addition, he has a little house where he can get out of the weather. I could easily add a couple more goats to this set up.
  • They don’t eat much and their feed doesn’t have to be top quality. Last summer I bought a ton of grass hay for my pack goat and he’s just now getting to the last bale.
  • They don’t drink much water. In fact, they can go for a few days without drinking. Dry camps don’t bother them.
  • Pack goats are usually cheap to buy, but you may have to raise them from kids as trained and experienced pack goats are pretty spendy – if you can even find one for sale.
  • They’re incredibly sure footed; they can go everywhere you go and places you can’t (or won’t) go.
  • They’re recycling machines. Goat raisins make great compost.

There are a number of different breeds of goats, and some are better for packing than others. Alpines, Toggenburgs, and Saanans are all larger breeds that make good pack goats. You’ll want a goat that will weigh a minimum of 160 pounds when mature. Most pack goats are wethers (castrated males). But if you like goat’s milk get a doe for packing and you can have fresh milk in camp.

So – are you ready to do it with a goat?

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

The Poodle Doodle

During Montana’s fishing season I work part time at a local fly shop. The owner, fishing guide Joe Cantrell is great guy. He lets me bring my dog to work. Allow me to rephrase that last remark: I’m required to bring my dog to work. I think that if I didn’t bring Sophie to work, Joe would send me home to get her. I really think she ought to be on the payroll, but so far I haven’t been able to get Joe to sign off on that.

You may remember meeting Sophie in my blog entry of June, 2014. Sophie is my standard poodle who will be three years of age in a few weeks. Her birthday is Feb. 17, just in case you want to send her a card. Or a dog bone. Or maybe both.

Sophie loves everybody. When a customer enters the shop, she often stands on her hind legs with both of her front feet straight in the air as if to offer a High Ten.

It’s amazing how many people in Montana aren’t familiar with standard poodles. Maybe it’s because not many are seen in Montana. I’ve received comments like, “I didn’t know poodles could be so big!” (Sophie weighs about 50 pounds). But my favorite comment came from a customer who entered the shop, took a look at Sophie and asked, “What kind of a doodle is this?”

You’re probably aware that standard poodles are sometimes crossed with Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. The results are called, “Labradoodles” and “Golden Doodles” respectively. The hoped-for product in both cases is a dog that features a heavier build, has a strong hunting instinct, retains the intelligence of all three breeds, and has the hallmark, non-shedding coat of the poodle.

So the customer’s question, “What kind of a doodle is this?” was fair question – but I just couldn’t resist offering a smart-aleck reply:

“She’s a poodle-doodle.”

There’s a story behind how this Montana outdoorsman ended up with a poodle, and for that I refer you to article mentioned above. I really didn’t know much about standard poodles when I got her. But now I wouldn’t trade her for a whole herd of Labs.

How do I love thee, my poodle? Let me count the ways –

  • Poodles do not shed. They have hair instead of fur, making them pretty much hypoallergenic.
  • Sophie doesn’t smell like a dog, although sometimes her feet get a little stinky.
  • They’re scary-smart. I remember taking Sophie on a cross country hike last summer. The grass was taller than she was, so as she wandered out ahead she kept losing track of me. Finally she jumped up on a stump to see where I was. I’ve never seen a dog use a stump as a step stool before. That’s pretty smart.
  • They’re incredible watch dogs. We have a large front window in our living room with a bench underneath. Sophie spends hours sitting on that bench staring and out of the window. If anything moves out in the pasture, be it nothing more than a mouse, Sophie will let me know about it.
  • She’s exceptionally “birdy” and has a great nose. Most people don’t know it, but poodles were originally used as hunting dogs and they still make great hunters if they’re bred for it. She even has the webbed feet of a water retriever.

So my advice to you? If you’re ready for a dog, get a poodle-doodle. They’re only #8 on the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular dogs, but I’ve concluded that Poodles Are America’s Best Dogs. But then again, this advice is from a guy that owns a pack goat.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ah, yes, the good, the bad and the ugly about living in rural Montana.

The good: You can do just about whatever you want.

The bad: People do just about whatever they want.

The ugly: There are a bunch of very ugly people living here who do just about whatever they want. The Old Turkey Hunter

The good: The bugs here are just about big enough to eat.

The bad: the bugs here are just about big enough to eat you.

The ugly: There are a bunch of big, ugly bugs living here who eat just about anyone they want.

Good, bad or ugly, there’s a lot to be liked about living in rural Montana.

  • My bank doesn’t have a lobby, but they know my name when I pull up to the drive up window.
  • Within minutes of leaving home, I can park my truck at a trailhead and know it won’t be vandalized when I return. However, I can find peace, quiet and solitude on my porch without ever leaving home.

The good: birds flitting everywhere.

The bad: bird poo everywhere.

The ugly: bird poo in my eye.

So tell me: what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about where you live? 

One Mediator

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Copyright Mike Raether 2016

This morning I awoke too early. Wide awake. A single word entered my mind: Come. I tried to go back to sleep as the time on the clock was only O-Dark-Stupid-Thirty, but the word wouldn’t go away. And then another word: Obey.

Come. Obey.

And so I finally obeyed, I came, and I wrote this poem –

Here I am,

I come to Thee,

I have only but one plea,

That the Mediator died for me.

1 Timothy 2:5.

HIIT It

Okay, it’s confession time.

I’m an old man. Some might even call me a fat old man (hey, I’m a recreational eater, okay?).

mountain-goat-1259297-640x480
Courtesy freeimages.com/Josephine Eber

So a few months ago I was at first a little hesitant when I was contacted by Chuck Johnson, the publisher/owner of Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana and asked to consider writing a fly fishing guide for the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. The conversation went something like this:

  • Chuck: You seem to be pretty knowledgable. How’d you like to write for us?
  • Me: A fly fishing guide? I’d like to, but most of our mountain lakes are pretty brushy around the edge. A guy has to do some wading to be effective. Or be a pretty good roll caster.
  • Chuck: Get a float tube or a backpack boat.
  • Me: That would mean packing it in on my back. And I’m not a young man.
  • Chuck: Get a pack goat.

Well, I signed the book contract and I did get the boat. But I’m the pack goat. I guess this makes me an old goat (okay, a fat old goat).

Even though I’m a fat old goat, I do like to hike and backpack and so I try and stay in reasonably good shape. I’ve even overcome the boredom of the treadmill. But add 50 pounds of boat and gear on my back and hike mile after mile? I knew I was going to have to take my fitness to another level.

So I got on the Internet and for me I found the key: HIIT.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The basic idea behind HIIT is to alternate between short, intense training and very brief rest periods. HIIT as a training routine hits your hard. Real hard. However, the beauty of HIIT is that it’s so intense you only have to follow a routine for 10-20 minutes three days a week instead of the usual 30-60 minute workout five days a week. And when it comes to stamina and aerobic benefits, it yields better results for most folks. In this case, less really is more.

A guy can find lots of information on the Internet about HIIT and a superabundance of work out routines. But the problem I found with most of the work out routines is that they’re designed for young bucks, not fat old goats so I had to come up with my own version of HIIT. With all of this in consideration, I’m pleased to present my version of HIIT for old goats, fat or otherwise. My modified HIIT routine also works for young bucks who don’t care to swing a 20 pound kettle ball overhead. My routine uses the lowly treadmill, and is as follows:

  • 4 minutes of warm up:
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 6% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 8% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 10% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • Next, alternate for 10 reps each:
  • 1 minute at 3.2 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 3 minutes of cool down:
  • 3 minutes at 2.0 MPH, 0% incline.I programmed the above routine into my treadmill, which makes my HIIT workout a no brainer although still a strainer. Modify as you see fit, of course. I combine my HIIT routine with strength training but that’s another story.

Now for the inevitable disclaimer: always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine. There. I’ve said it. Now go HIIT it.

Comments, wagers on how soon I’ll croak, etcetera?

Do It On the Fly

My raft was floating high as we drifted downriver, but my hopes were about sunk. We were near the end of a five mile float trip down Montana’s Lower Clark Fork River and my grandson and my daughter’s boyfriend Jeff had not had one hit. They had tossed lures and bait from one side of the river to the other in an effort to nail one of the Clark’s hefty trout but with no success. I had my fly rod aboard, but I’d stayed on the oars the whole time in order to give them the best shot as they had come from out of state. But then it happened.

A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat
A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat

Jeff pointed toward the opposite bank. “Look at THAT!” he said.

“That” was a series of trout rises just downstream from a small, rocky point that jutted out into the river and stalled the current.

“That” was what I was waiting for.

I had them both real up and put their spinning rods away as I rowed across to the rocky point and dropped the anchor. After squinting toward the rises and determining that the trout were feeding on a hatch of PMDs (Pale Morning Duns), I tied a #14 PMD dry fly to the end of the leader. I made a few false casts to work out some fly line and dropped the fly just downstream from the point so it would float down the edge of the broken current and meet the feeding trout.

Fish on! I soon boated a fat rainbow of about 15.” I dried out the fly, dabbed on a little dry fly floatant and worked the fly back out to the feeding trout.

Fish on! I handed the bobbing fly rod to my grandson. The fish made a few determined runs, then came unbuttoned. By now the fly looked a bit bedraggled, so I tied on a fresh offering and once again dropped the fly just upstream from the feeding trout.

Fish on! This time the fly rod went to Jeff, and immediately the trout made a smoking run downstream. Jeff managed to turn the fish before it got into the backing, and it responded by stubbornly sulking on the river bottom. Jeff and the fish played a game of tug a war for a few minutes until the Jeff won. Another chubby ‘bow of about 15” came to the net.

This last effort put the trout down and they stopped feeding. I rowed the raft down to our takeout. Jeff shook his head as the raft bumped the shore. “Man,” he said, “I gotta learn to fly fish!”

How about you? If you’re a fly fisher, you’re nodding your knowledgable head in appreciation. There’s few things more exciting than catching trout on a dry fly. 

However, if you’re not a fly fisher you don’t have to lose out on the experience of doing it on the fly. You can get with a local outfitter and fishing guide such as Joe Cantrell who just about has every trout named in every hole. Joe can arrange a guided float trip for you on the Lower Clark Fork River. Included in his reasonably-priced package is all the tackle and flies, free casting lessons if you need them, and a hungry-man shore lunch. Joe also owns a lodge on the banks of the Clark Fork and can put you up for a fair price.

So, how about it, fishers? Do you do it on the fly? Or would you like to learn more about it? Tell me!

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Mushrooms!

“You try them first. If you live, I’ll try them.”

Bag of Meadow Mushrooms
Bag of Freshly Gathered Meadow Mushrooms, Dirt and All

I’d just phoned a neighbor and informed her that she has Meadow Mushrooms popping up all over her lawn. Although I’d made a positive I.D. on the choice fungi from some I’d gathered from my own property, she was hesitant to eat them. And rightly so. Mushroom poisoning is no fun. And if you eat the wrong kind of mushroom you can end up planted in the ground and pushing up mushrooms over your grave. However, because I told her I’d already eaten some and was still standing, she thought she’d give them a try.

Meadow mushrooms are among the finest of edible mushrooms. Mushroom lovers dream about them. And based on when and where they grow and confirmed by making a spore print, they’re easy to identify. The taste is like commercial “button” mushrooms, only more so.

Meadow Mushrooms, Ready to Dehydrate
Meadow Mushrooms, Ready to Dehydrate

After pigging out on as many as I could (first raw, then sliced, cooked, and sautéed with shrimp and angel hair pasta, then finally sautéed in butter all by themselves), I loaded the rest of my harvest in my food dehydrator for later.

This morning I got up thinking about gathering more Meadow mushrooms. I’m very greedy when it comes to mushrooms. Having harvested all the Meadow mushrooms from my property, I called my neighbor and asked her if she’d tried them.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “They’re wonderful! But I can’t eat them all, so if you want more come and get them.” 

Bwah Ha Ha!

Are you a mushroom lover? Go ahead and leave a comment!

Shank Meat’s Back on the Table, Boys!

Savory Shank Stew

I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy, so thoroughly enjoy boning, cutting and wrapping my own deer and elk – except for dealing with the shank meat. When it comes to the shank I hate the long and tedious process of filleting off the normally unpalatable silver skin.

But I found a way to cook up the shank meat silver skin and all, turning a notoriously tough cut of meat into gourmet fair. Try this recipe once, and you’ll prize the shank almost as much as the prime cuts. Cooked slow and low, the meat is fork tender and the silver skin dissolves and acts as a natural thickening.

  • 1½ lbs (more or less) boneless shank meat w/silver skin, cut into about 1” chunks
  • 1 very large onion, sliced thin (about 1½ cup)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1- 15 ounce can ready to use beef broth
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • ⅓ cup tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or other good quality vegetable oil.

Heat oil to medium high in Dutch oven, brown meat half at a time. Remove with fork or slotted spoon to retain oil in Dutch oven, set meat aside. Reduce heat to medium-low, add onions and garlic, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (do not brown).

Remove lid, add broth, wine, tomato paste, and bring to boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, return meat to Dutch oven, add bay leaf. Cover and place in preheated 275 degree oven (or simmer very slowly in Dutch oven). Roast in oven for 2-3 hours or until tender. Serve over a bed of rice, pasta, couscous or potatoes and taste a little bit of heaven. Serves four hungry dudes.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –