You may remember a couple of months ago that Grover my packgoat hacked my blog with the intention of supposedly “getting even” with me for being such a “meanie.” Other than Grover’s very false accusation, the whole thing may have piqued your interest about using goats as pack animals. If so, I’ve got a treat for you. If not, I’ve still got a treat for you.
A couple of months ago I published an article in Distinctly Montana magazine called, “Don’t Let Them Get Your Goat” in which I discussed goat packing. If you’re interested, here’s the link.
By the way, Distinctly Montana is a very fine, full color glossy magazine which explores all things Montana, from wildlife and wild lands, to outdoor recreation, to people and places, to arts, culture, food, and fun (in my view, all food is fun except for carrots which I totally detest).
Anyway, check out the mag. I think you’ll like it. Mikey does.
Suddenly the season is upon me. So what’s a guy to do? So many choices, so many options. Fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, cooling off in the Clark Fork River, or – forbid the thought – getting stuff down around the house so I can go fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, or cooling off in the river. Or I could do some work around the house – or not. I must first consider my Montana options one at a time –
Fly Fishing. This is probably my first choice, especially with the nearby Clark Fork River right at hand and producing lots of cooperative trout. Grasshopper season is just about to get into full swing (better known as “hopper/dropper” time). A big, fat, tan Chernobyl Ant might be hard for a fish to resist. If I need up-to-the-minute fishing info, I can call on my friends at Joe Cantrell Outfitting. A float trip on the Clark Fork is the best way to fish this big river which drains most of Western Montana, but sometimes I prefer wade fishing. A while ago I composed a list of wade fishing areas for some of the local rivers and creeks, and if you shoot me an email I’ll send you a free copy (no spam, and your email address will never, ever be shared. Promise).
Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping. When I first relocated to this part of Montana, I was amazed at the myriad of alpine lakes in Northwest Montana that could be reached without wearing off too much boot leather. I even wrote a fly fishing guide book about the mountain lakes which was published in 2018 through Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana. I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the lakes I wrote about, and shooting some video this time around. Should you be interested in my book, you can find it here.
Huckleberry Picking. What we call huckleberries here are actually wild blueberries and they’re ripening as I write. Huckleberries are a thing in Western Montana. Huckleberry fiends can get huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry lattes, huckleberry candy, and of course, fresh-picked huckleberries. I see a huckleberry pie in my future.
Shooting and Reloading. I think I’ll save this for a rainy day project in my shop. If it ever rains again this summer. Been in the upper 90s the past few days. My wife Katherine asked me recently, “Which do you like more: shooting or reloading?” I thought for a minute and replied, “Reloading. I shoot so I can reload.”
Speaking of temps in the upper 90s, I can go cool off in the river. The flow of the lower Clark Fork is gentle for the most part, making it ideal for folks in drift boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards (float at your own risk, of course. And ALWAYS wear a life jacket!).
So what am I gonna do? Hmmm . . . What would YOU do?
One of the things I really appreciate about Montana is that we don’t make laws to protect people from themselves. For example, if you want to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, it’s your business and perfectly legal. You’re free to spill your brains all over the highway if you like. After all, they’re YOUR brains. Where I live, as long as you have a sewer and electrical permit, your abode need be nothing more than a tarpaper shack.
The beauty of Montana is that you can do whatever you want. But that’s also the ugly thing about Montana: people do whatever they want. Which is fine, unless your neighbor has a dead car collection.
Here in Montana, you’re expected to police yourself which can have a huge negative impact on the environment if you’re a slob. For example, in Mineral County where I hang up my waders, there’s one game warden for all of the county. If I choose to hike into a mountain lake for some fishing, my odds of seeing that game warden are pretty slim. With nobody looking over my shoulder, the responsibility for being legal is mine. Should I decide to scoff the laws, I have to live with myself. As former basketball player and coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
I was reminded of this on a backpacking trip to an alpine lake. This lake offers a wonderful camping spot – or did, before it was trashed by some miscreants. The campfire ring contained some blackened tin cans. Someone had packed in a couple of cans of chili, then tried to burn the empty cans. Empty plastic water bottles defaced the place like pimples on a pretty girl’s face. Nearby I saw where a driftwood log had holes blasted in it by some firearm. I had to shake my head. Those empty cans of chili: Someone packed them in full; couldn’t they have packed them out empty? Same thing with those empty plastic water bottles: How much could they possibly weigh? A couple of grams each maybe? And then there was the piece of bullet-blasted driftwood. A gun range would have been a better choice for target practice, rather than explode the piece and quiet of this pristine place.
So it all comes down to the old adage: pack it in, pack it out, even if it means packing out someone else’s garbage. A little respect for the laws and environment doesn’t take away our pleasure; it adds to it. Let’s all do the right thing. Take home the garbage.
Spring has finally sprung in the Rockies, and it happened all of a sudden: Within two weeks much of the snow melted, and the tree swallows, robins, and bluebirds returned. What a change from February and early March, when I was buried in snowstorm after snowstorm. One morning I got up and it was three degrees Fahrenheit. At least it was above zero. But then it got cold. Until recently I plowed snow off my 100 yard driveway an average of three times a week, sometimes every day. Not that I’m complaining about the weather. No way.
But I do have a complaint.
My complaint is that in winter and early spring there just isn’t much happening on the outdoor scene in my remote corner of Montana (except for plowing snow). So I was busy whining to myself, until I got to thinking of all the things available to me this time of year that get ignored at other times of year because I’m too busy fishing, camping, hiking, and hunting to make time for them. But what was once pushed aside, this season now brings to the front of the line. Here’s my list of things I can do right now. All I have to do is get off my butt.
Study animal tracks,
Hunt rabbits (open year ‘round here, and no bag limit),
Hunt coyotes (also open year ‘round, no bag limit),
Practice photography skills,
Take inventory of my outdoor stuff,
Study outdoor catalogs (following inventory of outdoor stuff),
Practice fly casting,
Apply for tags and permits for the upcoming year,
Feed the birds. Maybe. That old phrase, “Eat like a bird” is bilge water. Those little suckers can really chow. They once got into me for 25 pounds of seed per month. And once you start winter feeding, you have to keep it up. The little suckers come to depend on you. Too bad there’s no meat on tweeties.
One more: Now is also the time to study my state’s fish and game regulations. Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) has an abundance of resources on its Website, and I’d bet your state does, too, and a lot more than just rules and regs. On the MFWP website I can find information about Hunter Education programs, Montana’s WILD educational program, Montana State Park’s Visitor Centers, a Montana wildlife field guide, things related to recreational activities such as outdoor ethics and safety, even links to free downloadable resources such as posters featuring Montana wildlife.
But what about you? Let’s share. What do you do along outdoor lines to redeem this time of year? Just don’t tell me about fishing in your shirt sleeves for reds in the tidal creeks of Florida’s Gulf Coast. I might have to WHINE!
“It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.” This comment usually comes to me with a smile, but he/she has no clue. When you turn your hobby into your job, suddenly your hobby becomes work.
A couple of years ago, I entered into a contract with Wilderness Adventures Press to write a fly fishing guide to the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. Basically this boils down to visiting some of our mountain lakes, fishing, and writing about it. Sounds great, right? Hah!
Recently I sat down and took inventory of all the mountain lakes I need to visit this summer and scratched my head. I’d compiled a list of about 60 lakes. Whoa! I thought. I think I might need some company. And maybe a little help.
Maybe this is where you come in. I have a poodle and a pack goat and they’re good listeners but lousy conversationalists. And they’re not much for sharing camp chores. Wanna go? You could even bring a friend if you want.
Most of the mountain lakes on my list are reached via backpacking, although many of the hikes are under five miles. I usually camp overnight. This gives me an evening and a morning in order to get to know each lake. Then it’s on to the next one. I have trips planned for each week beginning in June, soyou could plug in for a couple of days, a week, or a month or more. I need someone who can handle a camera and/or wouldn’t mind having his picture in the book. I have all the camera equipment.
Oh, and for the record this isn’t a job offer. But it is an offer to be a backpacking trout bum this summer. As the saying goes, the pay is lousy but the benefits are out of this world.
Send me an e-mail if you’re interested and I’ll share more. Of course, we don’t know each other so if it looks like we click I’d need references from you. And you’d need references from me. Fair’s fair.
“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.
Carryamobilephone. 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.
Spaceblankets (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?
One of my favorite things to do in the forests of Montana is nothing; I just sit, watch, look, and listen. I notice how chipmunks dismantle evergreen cones to gather the nutritious seeds. The little harvesters will bury those seeds and forget where some got buried. However, from those overlooked caches new trees will grow. The chipmunks get food, and the trees’ seeds get planted.
The trees are pillars of life in the forest, providing platforms of nesting sites when alive and hollows for cavity nesting birds when dead. As I sit, I listen to the birds rather than watch them, as I’ve come to recognize many just by their songs.
The amazing interconnectivity of living things! Although this interconnectivity was noted as early as the Fourth Century, it wasn’t recognized as a science until about middle of the 20th Century—and then the new science got a name: Ecology.
Ecology celebrates the harmony of nature. In the forested mountains in Western Montana, Lodgepole pine springs up first after forest fires; they even need fire, as their cones can only be unlocked by wildfire. Although lodgepole occupies many different niches in the forest, it has a life expectancy of only 100 years or so, and is then replaced by other kinds of trees. Western larch occupies ridges and north facing slopes, as they need more moisture than is typically found on south facing grades. However, ponderosa pine prefers south slopes, as it likes the hot, dry conditions usually found there. Aspen prefer deep draws where there is abundant moisture. Cottonwood takes the moistest niche of all: River banks. Some organisms take this a step further: they form mutually beneficial relationships, like the example of evergreens and chipmunks above. Each gets something for their cooperation even though they’re often very different from each other.
Don’t you love it when everybody wins? Lodgepole don’t fight with ponderosa and aspen don’t fight with cottonwood. They each have their niches. Nature usually cooperates with nature. But humans, who are considered the most intelligent creatures on earth, too often bicker, fight, and sometimes even destroy other humans. Maybe we aren’t so smart after all. What if we invested our energy in finding ways to get along instead of trying to exterminate one another? What if we just agree to disagree and leave it there? I think the devil gets a good laugh when we try to rip out each other’s necks.
I’m a conservative but I have many progressive friends. On some issues we’re never going to agree, but we don’t divide on those issues. We might discuss them, even have polite disagreements, but then we part as friends.If we only hang with those who are like us, what does that say about us?
I don’t advocate being phony. As Charles Caleb Colton once noted, “Neutrality is no favorite with Providence, for we are so formed that it is scarcely possible for us to stand neutral in our hearts.” Know what you believe and why you believe, but be gracious.
I want to advocate replacing hate with love. And by “love” I don’t mean the warm fuzzies; I mean the kind of love that values others above self. Here’s a look at this kind of love:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV).
Your thoughts, pro or con? All perspectives are welcome.
You can comment, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.
Siri. Alexa. Cortana. Echo. And then there’s the Staples Easy Button. “Siri, search Internet. Alexa, order pizza. Cortana, turn on the garage lights. Echo, what should I name the baby?” There! That was easy!
We talk to our digital assistants to save time. But save time for what? So we can jam more stuff to our already over-busy lives? Hurry, hurry, hurry. To where? To what end? That six-foot-deep hole in the ground will be dug soon enough; no reason to rush it. And yet rush the grave we do.
At the turn of the 20th Century, when a physician treated someone it was most often for the flu or some other physical disease. But no more. Now when physicians see someone, it’s usually for a stress related problem.
Are you stressed out? How to tell: Try sitting for a half hour doing nothing. Can’t stand it? Can’t be idle for just a half hour? Then most likely there’s too much stuff clawing for your attention.
Let’s consider a few options for lowering your stress level. There’s lots on the Net about this, but seeing as how you’re here, let’s consider some stuff quickly – quickly ’cause we’re in a hurry, right?
Have a talk with God, otherwise known as prayer. God likes to hear from us, and I’m convinced we can talk to Him friend to friend. I don’t advocate being disrespectful, such as addressing God like, “Yo, Pop, wassup?” But you don’t need to be formal. Just talk to Him conversationally.
Sit down to dinner with the fam, or share a meal with a friend. Shut off the tube, close the laptop, trash the newspaper. Use your mouth for something other than chewing food: Talk.
Build a network of friends. I’m an introvert, so I know how hard it is to make new friends. Still, I look for ways to relate. Here’s some advice from Arnold Bennett: “You will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Breathe. I mean it. Breathe. You might say, “I AM breathing! If I wasn’t, I’d be DEAD!” What I mean is, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and slowly draw a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth (to do this properly, you’ll need to know how to belly breathe). Repeat for five minutes. Don’t know how long five minutes is with your eyes closed? Tell your friendly but impersonal digital assistant to set a timer for five minutes. And don’t peak to see how much time is left.
Laugh. Out loud. Hard. Repeat. Of course, first you have to find something to laugh AT. How about laughing at yourself? Most of us take ourselves way to seriously.
Get some exercise. Hike, walk, run, whatever. It’s been proven that exercise relieves stress. Also helps your bowels move. And increases your sex drive. Hey, jus’ sayin.’
I think I’ll go hiking. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Echo are gonna hafta figure out life without me . I’m gonna slow down and live.
Now it’s your turn, if you have the time. You can comment here, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.
“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…
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’shooves 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 –