Tag Archives: Big Sky country

Out-Fished 22 to One

How could this be happening? I was usually the one with all the luck, but today my fishing rod had about as much life as a stand of last year’s cattails in the dead of winter.  However, my friend Ben’s rod continued to dance as fish after fish climbed aboard as eagerly as kids offered free candy.

Public domain

I rehearsed the events that had led to this situation.

It was a frigid winter’s morning, and Ben and me had elected to do some ice fishing on Montana’s Clark Fork River. The target was rocky mountain whitefish. Sleek, silvery, and averaging perhaps a foot in length, they’re scrappy on the line and hard to beat on the table, especially when smoked. The Montana catch limit is liberal, and if lady luck smiles on a guy he can take home a bucketful of good eating. However, lady luck wasn’t smiling on this particular guy. 

Silvery whitefish flopped all about Ben like water droplets on a hot griddle. One after another Ben pulled them up through the whole he’d chopped in the ice, and he hooked up again almost as quickly as he could freshen his bait and lower his offering to the river bottom.

What was I doing wrong? I was using the same bait as Ben. I was rigged up the way same as Ben. I was fishing six inches off the bottom, just like Ben. My ice fishing hole was only a dozen feet away from Ben’s. I should have been catching fish right along with him. But the fish seemed as excited about my bait as a kid faced with a pile of spinach.

At first I got getting frustrated, but then the thought struck me: this was Ben’s day. I snapped out of my grumbling and started rejoicing with Ben. It was this verse from Scripture that turned me around— “Rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

To “rejoice always” is to make a decision to rejoice regardless of the circumstances. Two brief words, four short syllables, but how hard it is to put them to work sometimes!  And yet, as we do we are refreshed with joy as with a cool summer rain after a hot spell. To refuse to rejoice is to admit that our pride is only exceeded by our selfishness.

As I pondered these things on that cold winter’s day, it didn’t matter anymore that Ben was catching all the fish. I began to rejoice with him, and congratulated him on his luck.  After a while the fish stopped biting even for Ben, and we decided to call it a day.  However, just before we left I finally managed to put one whitefish on the ice. In the end, Ben had out-fished me 22 to one. But it didn’t faze me a bit. Not only was I happy for Ben, but I was happy that I didn’t have to clean all those fish.

But wait, there’s more! I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more. You can comment, send me an e-mail, 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 –

Opportunity Lost

It was a great spot. I could see 100 yards in most directions through the Lodgepole Pine that clothed this Montana ridge. It was late October, and the snow was pocked with fresh deer tracks. By the half light of a promising dawn I brushed a few inches of snow off a convenient log, took a seat, and rested the rifle across my knees.

“Graceful Deer” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC 4.0. Cropped from original.

I had a buck tag in my pocket, but I wasn’t hunting deer. I had one of the  few cow elk permits for this area and I was out to fill my freezer with some of the finest eating available from the hunter’s woods.

And mixed with those whitetail tracks was elk tracks. From experience I knew that elk fed below me on the grassy, open south face at night and bedded during the day in the tangle of dense downfall and brush on the north face. I was hoping to intercept them on the crest of this east-west ridge.    

I leaned my back against a convenient tree, blew out a frosty sigh and settled in for a wait. After a few minutes I raised a cow elk call to my lips and blew a few enticing notes. I waited, then repeated. I waited some more.

The whitetail buck appeared out of nowhere, as unexpected as a spring snowstorm. Suddenly he was just there, standing barely 30 yards away, eyes boring into me. Apparently he’d crept in to investigate the elk call.

The buck appeared curious, perhaps wondering where I’d come from. I studied his antlers through my binoculars. Nice rack. Not huge, but nice. The main beams were thick and gnarly at their bases. They gracefully swept up and forward and in width stretched out well past his ears. There were just three tines per side but they stood tall and proud, the tallest more than a foot long.       

“I think I’ll let him go.” I lowered my binoculars. I was more than a mile from my truck. It would take all day to get this buck off the mountain, and my elk hunt would be cancelled for the day. I had plenty of season left to fill my buck tag. Four more weeks lay ahead of me. Still, he really was a pretty decent buck…

I raised my binoculars again for another peek while the buck stood as still as a fence post, watching me. I might get a chance at a bigger buck later in the season, but I might not. If I filled my buck tag now, then I could put all my efforts into hunting elk for the rest of the season.

“I think I’ll take him.” Slowly lowering my binoculars, I began easing the rifle up to my shoulder. But the buck had grown tired of the game. Suddenly, without warning he turned, flipped his tail and was gone. I’d looked too much, and waited too long. The opportunity was gone as quickly as a popped balloon.

I continued calling for elk but without success. Late in the day as I descended the mountain, I thought about the drama with the buck. Why had I hesitated? That buck was probably a gift from God, a diamond opportunity to tag out. And I’d missed it.       

I began thinking about some of the other diamond opportunities God has given me that I’ve missed because I’ve hesitated. Not just opportunities to take game, but opportunities in other areas of life.

God is not silent. He calls to us, sometimes even challenges us. And like that buck on that ridge, He often waits patiently while we make up our minds. But also like the buck, He won’t wait forever. If we hesitate too long, the opportunity might turn, flip its tail and flee. Of course, sometimes the opportunities come again. But sometimes they don’t.

By the way – you may be wondering if I ever filled that buck tag. No, I did not…

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 –

 

 

Thanks, Sierra Club; I Needed a Good Laugh

I don’t know why the letter found its way into my mailbox. As an outdoorsman I’m a deeply- committed environmentalist, but I’m not a radical environmentalist. So when I found the Sierra Club’s recent fund raising letter in my mail, I settled down for a good laugh.

“DIY dip dye hair” by mommyknows ( Kim Becker) available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/7847448616, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

The letter abounded in scare tactics and alarmist statements, all designed to extract money from my pocket to help support the Sierra Club. They claimed, “…endangered species legislation is under attack… especially with the recent election of Donald Trump…”  The letter identified a number of animals it considers in deep weeds: “…lynx, ocelot, grizzly bear, gray wolf, and wolverine…”

I’m not too familiar with lynx, ocelots, grizzlies or wolverines, but as I live close to the land and deep in the mountains of Western Montana, I’m very familiar with wolves and the problems they cause. So let’s consider wolves and what the Sierra Club has to say about them.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the Endangered Species Act [ESA] protections be removed for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, allowing this iconic species to become a victim of unlimited hunting, trapping, and poisoning across the United States.”

Unlimited hunting? Really? Hunting is tightly controlled all over the country by game laws in order to protect the resource. Poisoning? Currently the only country that allows poisoning is Russia – and why? Russia has a history of huge problems with wolf predation.

The Sierra Club’s letter continued, “…the wolf is considered fair game for hunting by any method including trapping – a painful, inhumane, and cowardly way to kill.” While it’s true that, at least in Montana wolves can be hunted by many means, including bow, rifle, handgun and shotgun, the picture we’re offered is that of drooling, crazed hunters lusting after a chance to kill a wolf.

What about trapping? I’m not a trapper and I don’t think I’ll ever become one, but it’s a free country. If people want to trap, I say let ’em trap. But what about trapping being “…inhumane and cowardly…”? Traps usually don’t kill; they simply hold an animal until the trapper returns to the trap and dispatches the trapped animal quickly and humanly. In fact, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Website talks at length about the ethics of trapping. Trappers are encouraged to Use dispatching methods that are quick and humane.” And according to Montana trapping regulations, traps must be checked at least every 48 hours.

The Sierra Club letter had more to say about gray wolves: “…when congress removed [ESA] protections for the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in 2011, massive public hunts ensued. Since then more than 1,700 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered.”

Where did they get this figure of “1,700 wolves”?  And “senselessly slaughtered”? Since when is it senseless to destroy a group of animals that are running amok and eating themselves out of house and home? When deer, elk, and pronghorns overpopulate in Montana, hunting regulations are relaxed allowing increased harvests of animals that might starve to death otherwise. And since when is it senseless to kill wolves that are attacking a farmer’s or rancher’s stock?

What about the health of the Northern Rockies’ wolf packs? According to this report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The NRM [Northern Rocky Mountain] wolf population continues to be robust, stable and self-sustaining. As of December 31, 2015, there were at least 1,704 wolves in 282 packs (including 95 breeding pairs) in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The wolf population has exceeded recovery goals identified by the Service and partner biologists since 2002. Wolves continue to expand their range westward in eastern Oregon and Washington. An additional 200 wolves in 34 packs (including 19 breeding pairs) were estimated in Oregon and Washington. The total wolf population in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington was estimated to be 1,904 wolves.”

This report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a cooperative effort by the fish and game management  units of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Montana with the help of the National Park Service, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the USDA and seven Native American nations.

What??? No help from the Sierra Club or any other environmental organization? I have to ask, Why not?

The Sierra Club closes with the warning, “…the Trump Administration is …working hand and hand with anti-environment extremists… [and therefore] our work has taken on an added urgency.”

If that isn’t alarmist propaganda I don’t know what is.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting the Sierra Club. It’s your money. However, check out the claims before you reach into your pocket. You have a brain. Use it. Think before you drink the Kool-Aid.

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 below, 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? 

The Perfect Storm

Springtime in the Rockies.

Last Thursday evening started with the first BBQ of the season: grilled teriyaki chicken, paired with Jasmine rice and kale salad on the side, followed by the first thunderstorm of the year.

Photo Courtesy of Wilerson S Andrade, https://www.flickr.com/photos/will_spark/8602965815
Photo Courtesy of Wilerson S Andrade, https://www.flickr.com/photos/will_spark/8602965815

Blasting wind, horizontal rain, lightening streaking across the sky almost right overhead, and closely accompanied by house-shaking thunder. Awesome! I love a good storm. After supper my Standard Poodle and I sat out on my deck and enjoyed the show together.

Did I get wet? You bet! Did I enjoy the storm? You bet! After getting thoroughly soaked, I retreated to the house.

It was The Perfect Storm. However, perfection has its limits. A diamond can be cut perfectly, but it cannot exceed that perfection. But the perfections of God are unlimited.

How about you? Do you like a good storm? Tell me about it. Or maybe you’d just like to muse with me on the perfections of God. I’d like to hear about that, too.

Your turn –

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 –