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.

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 –

Necessity is the Mother of Pancakes

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camping spot near the shores of the mountain lake. As soon as we had camp set up, my backpacking buddy reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of white powder.

“Look what I brought!” he said. My friend Russ doesn’t do drugs, so without reservation I asked what was in the bag.

Russ smiled triumphantly. “Pancake mix!”

Russ and I both love pancakes so I smiled back. But I had to ask:

“Did you bring any butter?”

“No.”Pancakes

“Syrup?”

“No. But look at all the ripe huckleberries around here! We can add them to the batter and our pancakes will be awesome!”

“Hmm.” I said. “I love huckleberries but they’re rather tart. But I have an idea.”

I reached in my pack and pulled out a package of instant oatmeal, cinnamon and spice flavor. “In the morning, let’s try adding this to the batter and the huckleberry mixture. It should sweeten up the mix. Either we’ll have a new taste sensation or a blowout.”

The pancakes were awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I have to share the recipe with you. Pancake mix doesn’t weigh much, and neither does flavored instant oatmeal so they’re both light in the pack. If you don’t have ripe huckleberries available, you can bring along a little dried fruit, chop up it  and rehydrate it some before making your mix. Now then:

  • 1/2 c. huckleberries or rehydrated fruit of your choice.
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal, your choice of flavor.
  • About a c. of pancake mix.
  • Enough water to make a thick batter. You want it a little lumpy. Too thin? Add more pancake mix. Too thick? Add more water. Cook ’em up and enjoy. I ate mine with my fingers.

The result is like fruit scones. The instant oatmeal adds just enough sweetness and Russ noted that he didn’t experience the sugar rush/crash that he gets when he uses syrup.

A few days ago I made these at home for breakfast. I didn’t have a mountain lake nearby, but the pancakes tasted just as good!

Comments? Questions?

Way Out in the Outback

Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173
Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173

Do you R-E-A-L-L-Y want to get away from it all? I mean go way, way back and probably not see another hiker for miles and miles and miles?

Have I got a trail for you!

Trail 173 begins about  1/4 mile before Blacktail Creek Road ends (Forest Service Road 304). To get to Blacktail Creek Road, take the Superior Exit from I-90 (Exit 47).  If you exit from I-90 Westbound, turn left after exiting, continue about 1/4 mile to the stop sign and turn left and proceed under the Interstate. At the “T” turn right and continue about 1/2 mile to Blacktail Creek Road and turn left. If you exit from I-90 Eastbound, turn right off the exit and then right at the “T.”

Once at the trailhead, you’ll notice that the trail immediately jumps up but it gentles out shortly after. For the next half mile the trail meanders and crosses Thompson Creek twice. Shortly after crossing the creek for the second time, the trail turns North-Northwest and follows the course of Blacktail Creek uphill. After another 1/2 mile or so the trail generally traces a Westerly course, and can be followed for about eight miles until it intersects with Trail 152. Hike left (South-Southwest) on Trail 152. Follow Trail 152 about five miles and you’ll come to Trial 151. Trail 151 runs South and intersects with the Stateline National Recreation Trail after about another five miles. From this point, you can hike around eight miles Northwest until the trail intersects with Dry Creek Road (FS Road 342) or hike generally Southeast along the Stateline National Recreation Trail about seven miles to Cascade Pass and the Cedar Creek Road (FS Road 320).

Obviously, the through-hike route is for seasoned hikers or backpackers and you’ll want to arrange for a ride back to the point of beginning. Although the route isn’t overly steep most of the way (call it “moderate”), it’s a long, long way to its eventual end if you include the other trails in your itinerary.

However, one of the things I really like about Trail 173 is the lack of other hikers. As a bonus, you can go as near or far as you like. But if you’re like me, you just can’t resist another bend in the trail – until you realize it’s many miles back to the truck!

I purposely haven’t revealed everything about this hike; I’ve left some nice surprises for you.

Questions? Comments?  Click the “Comment” button just under the title of this post or email me: mike(at)mikeraether(.com).

The Disconnection Connection

Ward Creek Trail
Ward Creek Trail – Time to Think

 

 

“How do you stand it?”

The question was posed by our youngest son. After being on his own for a while, he’d stopped by for a visit. The TV was off, the radio was silenced and the stereo was resting. The only sound was the methodic ticking of a clock. 

•Again the question came: “It’s so quiet here. How do you stand it?”

I remembered this incident recently when I read about a study done by the University of Virginia and reported in the July 4, 2014 edition of Science magazine. Study subjects consisting of a broad span of ages ages were asked to spend six to 15 minutes by themselves without any external stimuli – no computer, cell phone, music, TV, magazines or books to entertain them; nothing to write with or on. Instead, they were told to occupy themselves with their thoughts – in other words, disconnect from the external world and connect with the internal world.

Most of the people who participated in the study didn’t like the experience. The researchers are not yet sure why, although they have some theories. One of their theories is that the human mind is designed to focus on the external world and when those external stimuli are removed the mind becomes uncomfortable.

•I have my own theory.

As a culture, I think we’re overstimulated. So much so that being alone with our thoughts is almost torture.

I find this hard to understand. I love to get away by myself to a quiet place and have time just to think. In fact, I deliberately create such times. I find them restful and refreshing. Life make sense again as take time to sort things out. As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables, “there are many mouths that speak, and but few heads that think.”

Consider my dog. The pasture grass behind my house is taller than she is. As she romps around in the tall grass, I can only tell where she is by the rusting movements. After a few moments of this, she realizes she’s lost track of me. She leaps above the grass, looks around and finds me. Satisfied, she drops back down in the grass and resumes finding bugs are whatever it was she was doing.

I believe we must do the same. As we rustle through the tall grass of life, we need to take some time out to stick our heads above the mess and get our bearings. In other words, take time to think. Disconnect in order to connect.

What about you? Do you like being alone? Are you comfortable with disconnecting? Why or why not? What refreshes you? We’re all different. What recharges your batteries? I have a friend who recharges by being around lots of people. That works for him. Let us know what you think!

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 –

Mineral County, Montana: An Outdoorsman’s Overview

I was stunned. It was abundantly more than I could ask or think.

When I arrived in heavily forested Mineral County in far Western Montana, one of the first things I did was spread out a USDA Forest Service map for the Superior Ranger District. As an outdoorsman, I wanted to learn about where I’d landed. What I discovered was an outdoorsman’s jaw dropper.

Bonanza Lake #1. Photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

First off, Mineral County is 87% publicly owned, and these public lands contain hundreds of miles of non motorized recreational trails. My new “back yard” was home to over 50 mountain lakes, most accessible only by trail and many with good to excellent trout fishing. All mine for the hiking.

And then there is the Clark Fork River with its many tributaries. The Clark Fork is big water that drains most of Western Montana. Although the Clark is overshadowed by the abundance of Montana’s blue ribbon trout waters, the Clark yields beautiful fish up to five pounds for those who learn how to fool ’em. The Clark’s tribs are fair to excellent fishing for brookies, cutts, ‘bows and sometimes big bull trout (be sure to check the regs).

Did I mention the hunting? No, not yet, but as some of you were wondering if I’d get there, here we go –

First, I have to deconstruct your thinking.

Montana in general is not the hunter’s paradise some make it out to be. There’s not a big game animal standing behind every tree or game birds flushing from every bush. Still, the hunting is pretty good, and there’s a certain romanticism connected with hunting in Montana. However, for sheer numbers, a hunter would be better off elsewhere.

But  back to Mineral County. I enjoy good hunting here and the proof is mounted on my walls. The hunting pressure is light if a hunter is willing to get back in the bush a quarter mile or so. Still, the mountains of Mineral County have been called “young men’s mountains” as they are steep and heavily forested. But a seasoned hunter knows that elk and deer don’t usually go straight up the mountain; they’re much smarter than that. They make trails. And a hunter who finds the game trails and uses them finds it much easier to get around the mountains. And he saves a lot of sweat and energy in the process.

Rivers, streams, mountains, lakes, trails, wildlife – yeah, I like it here. I also like sharing. By the way, how about sharing with me? What are your favorite things to do in the great outdoors? Or perhaps you have a question or suggestion?

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 –

Real Men Own Poodles

Overheard recently by my wife at her place of employment –

“You ought to meet Katherine’s husband. He’s this big, 6’3” macho outdoorsman and his dog is a POODLE!”

Ahem. That’s STANDARD Poodle, if you please. Not one of those yappy little car wash mitts.

So why a poodle for a macho man?

Me and Sophie
Me and Sophie

I’m glad you asked that question, because there’s a backstory. Not that I owe you an explanation. But seeing as how you’ve read this far, let’s continue.

When we moved to North Central Montana years ago (The Land of the Upland Bird) I wanted a bird dog. So I got a yellow Lab pup. Named him “Nugget” as I expected him to be pure gold. And he was.

Trained him myself, and in spite of my many mistakes Nugget became a retriever’s retriever. But the inevitable happened. Nugget turned 13 last January, and went the way of all the earth shortly after.

I began thinking about another dog, but after Nugget I couldn’t bear to get another Lab. So I started doing some research, and discovered that Standard Poodles were originally bred as hunting retrievers. Some of them still have it in their blood.

Bonus: Unlike Labs, poodles don’t shed. Labs shed like a Montana blizzard, and my wife was tired of vacuuming up enough hair each week to make a new dog.

Enter the Standard Poodle.

The short story: I contacted Dreamscapes Standard Poodles in Trout Creek, Montana. Dreamscapes breeds their Standards for bird hunting, retrieving, backpacking and carting. We now share our home with a very nice female Standard pup of just under four months of age. Her call name is Sophie – alias Sweet Pea, alias Snuggle Bunny, alias Daddy’s Girlie-Girl and sometimes alias Monster Baby.

After church last Sunday a friend gave me a ride home. I asked him if he’d like to see my new dog.

He said, “Does she have bows in her hair and painted toenails?”

I smiled. “Of course. Bright red.”

He laughed and said, “I’ll pass.”

Silly redneck. Everybody knows poodles make the best hunting dogs.

What do you think? Are you with me or agin me? Would love to hear your thoughts!

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

Great RV Campsite in St. Regis, Montana

Considering a vacation in Montana this year? Looking for a good campsite for your motor home or camp trailer with tons of outdoor opportunities right out the door of your RV?

Your Montana RV Campsite is Waiting for You

We have a single RV site available. Full hookups including power, water, sewer and garbage service, private setting, 360 degree of the mountains, and the best rates in the area! We also offer discounts for weekly and long term camping.

We’re located just 33 miles east of the Montana-Idaho border just off Interstate 90, and three miles north of St. Regis. Free fishing, hiking, backpacking, and hunting information. Mineral County (where we’re privileged to live) is 86 percent publicly owned – virtually all National Forest or State lands. Essentially an outdoor person’s playground! Miles and miles of trails, Forest Service roads, and over 50 mountain lakes to explore. Come and experience the “Overlooked Montana” and get away from the crowds!

Just give us a phone call at 406.649.0649 for all the details. Hope to see ya in Montana!

P.S.: If you just need some free info about area outdoor opportunities, call us! We love to share about our corner of Big Sky Country.

 

Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trials near St. Regis, Montana are Available to You

Small Town, Big Heart: Making it Happen for Others in Rural Montana

They come together from divergent backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, traditions and political persuasions and cooperate like a wedge of Canada geese flying in faultless formation. Their goal is to offer townsfolk and visitors three full days of wholesome entertainment and recreation as they organize the largest event of its kind in Montana. The St. Regis Flea Market, held every Memorial Day weekend since 1985 hosts hundreds of visitors and vendors in the 13 acre St. Regis Community Park. And the price of admission is just a smile.

Although Montana ranks among the top 10 states when it comes to volunteerism few towns can compare with St. Regis, a neighborly community of about 300 residents nestled in the mountains of Western Montana. Although St. Regis lies just off Interstate 90 at Exit 33, it is usually ignored by motorists hurrying toward tourist destinations. However, those who glide off the Interstate and invest a little time at the Visitor’s Center will find that this small community serves big slices of amusement and recreation.

Starting with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Potluck and Dance, the events continue with an Easter egg hunt, Fourth of July Parade followed by a carnival and community-wide fireworks display (locally known as “group insanity”), a free Thanksgiving Day Dinner, Christmas Bazaar and New Year’s Eve Party. The list goes on, but the largest event, and the function that funds all the others is the Flea Market.

Every year, over 150 vendors fill the park and offer an eclectic array of goods. Many of the vendors return year after year. Ron and Linda Kindred of Clinton, Montana who have returned for over seven years and offer leather goods and military surplus, explain why they keep coming back. Ron jokes, “It’s like a disease you can’t get rid of.” But Linda adds, “Actually, it’s kind of like a family reunion. We have vendor friends that we meet here from Spokane, Helena, and Billings.”

However, it is not just the vendors who are drawn back to the Flea Market every year. Shoppers return from all over the Northwest seeking something special. But the Flea Market offers more than potential treasure. The food cooked and served by the volunteers is hard to resist. And why bother? For those not watching their waistline, every morning starts with an all-you-can-eat breakfast featuring hot cakes, eggs, sausage and bacon, all for six dollars. Shoppers who recover from breakfast can return to the concession throughout the day for snacks, hamburgers and more.

Monies earned by the Flea Market furnished materials to construct the St. Regis Community Center and Visitor Center in 2001. The 5,500 square foot building was built mostly by volunteers. In addition to community events, the Community Center is available for such functions as weddings, birthday parties, and family reunions.

For the volunteers of St. Regis, organizing the year’s events amounts to many hours of work. Why do they do it? Perhaps it is a sense of gratitude that motivates them, perhaps it is an expression of appreciation for the privilege of living in the Last, Best Place. Perhaps it is just a reasonable response to all that Montana is, an overflow of the heart. For most volunteers, it simply distills to loving the community and giving back.

Although some feel that volunteer work is often thankless, Flea Market manager Anita Bailey disagrees. “I have never felt that my volunteer work is thankless. I have always felt appreciated. And I love meeting and working with people.”

Community Council President John Cheesman agrees and adds, “I like seeing people working together to accomplish goals. This is the real deal: coming together for the betterment of the community and providing quality events throughout the year.”

Ida Alexander, who has helped out for over 25 years likes the feeling of accomplishment. “It’s such a wonderful feeling when everything turns out.”

Many of the Community Council volunteers have found volunteerism so agreeable that they want extra helpings. For example, 10 year Community Council volunteer Glen Koepke also helps out with Community Center maintenance, is a liaison with the Forest Service, and was the catalyst for creation of the Loge Nature Trail adjacent to the community park.

Although anyone with a St. Regis address is a de facto member of the Community Council, volunteerism is not limited to council membership. During the January snowstorm this year, townsfolk wielding snow shovels, steering snow blowers and driving snowplows joined forces. There was more snow getting shoveled, blown, and plowed than was falling from the sky.

St. Regis is a small town with a big heart. As John Cheesman says, “Almost everyone is willing to help out if you just ask them.”

Be sure to view a few of the photos made at the 2011 Flea Market – Just click “Flea Market Gallery” and select any photo to start the slide  show.

God and the Great Outdoors

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;

And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night to night reveals knowledge.” (Ps 19:1-2, NASU)

Have you ever been awed by a sunrise, wonderstruck by a starry sky, astonished as you gazed from a mountain peak, or marveled at the ways of a river? If so, then you have heard from God. Each day’s sunrise speaks of God’s faithfulness, the night sky and the mountains remind us of His great power, and the flow of a stream in its channel testifies to God’s promised guidance of the Christian’s life.

 

Dipper Falls
Dipper Falls

Much can be learned about God by examining the world around us. Theologians call this, “General Revelation,” or the revealing evidence of God’s existence and what He is like through the things He has made. I call it pretty cool.

If you’re a Christian sportsman, then you know what I’m talking about. You can’t spend much time outdoors hunting, fishing, camping, or hiking before you start making the connection between what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible with what you experience in the great outdoors.

For example, a few years ago I was hunting elk. It was early morning, and I was hoping to catch elk passing by as I sat near a trail they used as they traveled from their night time feeding area to their daytime bedding site. The first animal that happened by wasn’t an elk, but that animal brought me a word from God.

It was a very nice whitetail buck, four points to each antler. I had a deer permit, but I hesitated to harvest the buck as I was afraid that the shot would spook any nearby elk. As I wondered what to do, the buck stopped and stood broadside, not thirty yards away. Easy shot. To shoot or not to shoot?

Finally I decided to take the buck, but at that very moment he flipped his tail and was gone. I’d waited too long. The opportunity was lost, gone as quickly as a popped balloon.

I began thinking of all the other opportunities I’d missed in life by waiting too long. And I thought of the story of Moses in Exodus 4:10-16. Because Moses hesitated, he lost a special opportunity.

At that point in my life I was struggling with an opportunity I thought God might be offering to me. But it required a huge step of faith, and I was hesitating. In all of this God was saying, “Stop hesitating. Move forward now or you’ll regret it, just like you just lost the opportunity to take that buck. The time to ‘tag’ My will is now.” I decided to move forward by faith, and it turned out to be the right decision.

If you’re a Christian sportsman you can probably relate. The Lord often speaks to us through outdoor experiences. If you love the Lord and love the great outdoors, I’d like to recommend something to you. For daily devotions centered around God and the outdoors, check out http://www.sportsmensdevotional.com/.

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

Pack it Out from the Outback! How to Quarter Big Game Without Gutting It

By Mike Raether

It was a fair question to ask of someone entering their sixth decade of life.

“At your age, why do you still backpack in to your hunting areas and pack the meat out on your back?”

A fair question deserves a fair answer.

“Because I still can.”

Backpack hunting offers many rewards. The solitude, the greater abundance of game, and the increased chance of bagging a real trophy. But for me, one of the greatest rewards is the satisfaction of harvesting game in the back country and packing out the meat. To test myself against myself, and then sit down to a meal centered on wild game I packed out of the wilderness always makes me smile. But packing out big game from the outback can be hard work. To make it easier I quarter the critter, drop the pieces into game bags, side the bags into my backpack and walk out of the woods triumphant.

Quartering-1
Step 2

If this thought appeals to you, then you’ll want to learn how to quarter your prize. That’s what this article is all about. Step by step, here we go:

Step 1. You’ll be butchering your prize one side at a time. Starting at the base of the head, make a slit down the center of the back to the base of the tail and then skin the animal from the backbone down.

Quartering-2
Step 1

Step 2. Remove the legs from the “knee.” After you’re done, the first finished side will look like this.

Step 3. Standing or kneeling over the animal and

Step 3
Step 3

at the animal’s backbone (with its head to your left) remove the front shoulder by grasping the shank and bending it back toward you, progressively cutting the shoulder free by making slices toward the backbone, staying close to the rib cage (be careful!). Keep making slices towards the backbone and the shoulder will come free.

Step 4
Step 4

Step 4. Now it’s time for the rear quarter. Again standing or kneeling over the animal at the animal’s backbone (with the rump to your right) grasp the shank, pull it toward you, and carefully slice between the body and the inside of the hindquarter.

Step 5
Step 5

Step 5. Progressively cut deeper until you encounter the socket that attaches the hindquarter to the body. Work the tip of your knife into the socket to cut the cartilage that holds everything together to free the ball from the socket. Keep cutting to free the hindquarter from the carcass.

Step 6
Step 6

Step 6. The prized back strap comes next. Starting about where the neck joins the body, slide your knife along the backbone (as if filleting a fish) to the point where you removed the hindquarter.

Step 7
Step 7

Step 7. Returning to your first cut near the neck, now work the knife back towards the hindquarter by sliding it along the top of the rib cage with the point of the knife following the backbone. Lift the back strap free.

Step 8
Step 8

Step 8. Now comes the tricky part: removing the tenderloin. It lies on the inside of the body cavity up against the backbone, beginning just about where the rib cage ends and continuing back about 9” (on an average size deer) towards the rump. To remove it, make a careful slice just under the backbone and just at the end of the rib cage (if you’re not extra cautious here you’ll cut the paunch – yuk). Reach in with your hand, feel along the underside of the backbone and you’ll find the precious tenderloin. Holding down the paunch with one hand, use the fingers of your other hand to work the tenderloin free from the backbone (it lives up to its name – it’s very tender and will come loose with a little encouragement).

Step 9
Step 9

Step 9. Now flip the animal over and do the other side. Note the finished product: one animal, quartered and ready to slip into game bags and then into your pack! At this point you can slit the belly open and easily remove the heart and liver without going through the whole gutting process.