Tag Archives: outdoorsman

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 –

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 –

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!

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?

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 –