Tag Archives: hunting

Deadly Nature

“WOW! What was THAT?” It was as if the ground had just exploded at our feet.

I did an about-face in the forest trail and looked at my friend. This was his first backpacking trip, and also his first experience with the thunderous flushing of forest grouse. And I’ll have to raise my hand and admit that I’m always startled by the sudden launch of forest rockets from right under foot.

I smiled. “It’s just a bunch of grouse,” I said. “No worries.” To my friend’s credit, he calmed right down and even did a fair immatation of the grouse calling to one another to regroup.

A harmless situation. Just a bunch of stupid birds. Still, my smile faded to a look of sober concern. “We have to be careful here. This is not our home. Nature is about as gracious as a traffic cop.”

If there’s one thing I enjoy more than backpacking, it’s introducing others to backpacking. I can say the same about fishing, hunting, and camping. But whatever the outdoor activity, a healthy dose of respect is needed. Nature can be a dangerous place. Screw up and a pleasant outing can become your worst nightmare. Therefore I always teach my newbie friends the basics of emergency wilderness survival. Some of the basics I press home–

  • Know how to navigate. Carry a map, compass, GPS. Why a map and compass if you have a GPS? Because batteries go dead, and electronics can fail. Kjellstom’s fine book Be Expert with Map and Compass has been around for decades, but it’s still a great resource.
  • Carry a mobile phone. You may not always have a signal, but if you do (and if you carry a GPS and/or know how to locate your position on a map) you can relay your coordinates to rescue personnel.
  • Pack redundant fire starter. I can make fire three different ways. Staying warm in an emergency situation is your first priority. Hypothermia sucks. Especially since it can kill you before you realize it’s killing you.
  • Include a small flashlight and spare batteries. Headlamps are great because they leave both hands free for other stuff. Just like having redundant fire starters, redundancy is a good idea here as well. Keychain flashlights are light and compact and can provide enough light to cheer up a lost or injured hiker.
  • Space blankets (also known as thermal blankets) can provide emergency shelter. Replace them every year, as they can deteriorate with time.

Emergency kits can become really personal, based on the items needed for a particular area. Because of this, some outdoorsmen like putting their own kit together. But no matter whether you buy one or do-it-yourself, make sure the kit is light and compact or you might be tempted to leave it home – “Just this once.” That could have deadly consequences.

Just my thoughts. What do you think? Advice or comments from your end?

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 –

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 –

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 –

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

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 –