Friday, October 31, 2014

The British are Coming!

Well, He's come and gone, actually.

Richard Jackson is an avid fly fisherman, hunter & guide from Great Britain who loves Montana. He just completed his second trip to the Treasure State and managed to find more than a deer or elk (which he did, on Public Land and on Block Management). Richard's trip started out a little Rocky.

You can read the details on Randy Newberg's forum, Hunt Talk:

Long story short, Richard had his handloaded ammo confiscated by customs and landed in Bozeman unarmed as his rifle hadn't made it yet either. He posted to Randy's website, and hunters came out of the woodwork offering to overnight him ammo, handload for him or give them some from their own closely held stock. It was pretty cool to see the hunting community come together and help Richard get what he needed. Luckily, there were a couple of boxed of 30-06 still in Bozeman and he soon retrieved his rifle from the airlines.

He was set but would he connect?

You bet he did. We love to see brothers and sisters from other countries come to Montana and experience our public lands and block management areas. Richard hunted hard opening weekend and connected on an unique 3x5 bull:

A day later, he was able to find this Whitetail Buck on a piece of Block Management:

It is a pretty impressive task to not only overcome the tribulations of flying internationally and then connecting on two critters on a Do-It-Yourself hunt on public land on opening weekend. 

Well done Richard. We hope the venison and elk steaks bring a smile to your face and the antlers serve as long lasting memories.  Cheers! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The true bird hunting paradise

By Nick Gevock

My English Setter Sapphire went on point along a creek bottom in eastern Montana and I rushed in, expecting to flush a pheasant.

It was opening day of the pheasant season and I couldn’t wait to put up a rooster as Sapphire held a rock-solid point. But when I got up there, a covey instead of about 20 Hungarian partridge busted from the cover, and in my state of surprise I missed with two shots.

That, to me, epitomizes why Montana is truly among the best states in the country when it comes to upland bird hunting.

That creek bottom – which of course shall only be dubbed “No-Tellum Creek”, is well known for holding lots of pheasants. And of course pheasants are a lot of fun to hunt. But it’s also home to Huns, a fantastic bird both for the wingshooting they offer and their quality on the dinner table.
Both non-native bird species that have adapted very well to much of Montana. Both are highly sought after by upland bird hunters.

What also struck me on that fall day was how rich the diversity of upland bird hunting in Montana is. Just a few hundred yards away, in the sagebrush hills above the creek bottom, I’ve busted large groups of sage grouse in years past. And a few miles down the road, in the native dry grasses so characteristic of eastern Montana, abundant groups of sharptail grouse can be found.

These two, native prairie grouse species are iconic of the northern Plains. And together with their recent arrivals, they make up what is arguably the most diverse, and fun, upland hunting in the country.

Within a roughly 10 mile radius, a hunter could bag three pheasants, eight Huns, two sage grouse and four sharptails in a single day. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been one that has to reach the bag limit every day. In fact, I’ve still never reached a bag limit on Huns, even though I’ve had some great days afield pursuing them.

But it does speak to the abundance we enjoy in this state. And of course it doesn’t stop with those species. We also have mountain grouse – blue, ruffed and Franklins.

Now granted, two of those species are not native to North America. Pheasants come from China and Huns from eastern Europe. But both species are not causing havoc on the environment, like other non-natives including spotted knapweed, or Zebra mussels.

A day spent upland bird hunting in eastern Montana is just another reminder of how blessed we are as hunters to live in the Treasure State. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Map it Out

I can’t remember a time in my life where a map hasn’t been close by. I spend hours going over the topo lines, dreaming of mountain monarchs in little gulches and potholes, bighorns running on top of the reefs, muleys holed up deep in the middle of rough coulee country and whitetail silently walking down the river bottom.

Maps are a part of my life that help hold the mystery of what’s around the next corner in the river or over the next ridge. They help me plan my fishing, scouting and hunting trips as well as help me stay on the right side of the section line.

We carry different maps today than we did just a few, short years ago. GPS units with mapping data keep us from running on to private land with remarkable ease. Google Earth makes scouting for likely spots easier and while there are a few programs like the Atlas, nothing comes close to what we offer - for free. 

The Sportsman’s Atlas includes several layers that help hunters and anglers in Montana find block management areas, Roadless areas, hunt districts, landownership, and even fishing access sites. The layers also include Satellite imagery, topographic imargy and a layer dedicated exclusively to the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF in Montana has provided funding for 70% of our Fishing Access Sites and some of our best hunting grounds like Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area and the soon to be completed Tenderfoot Project in the Belts. LWCF is up for renewal this coming year, and as we’ve written about before, we’ll need all hands on deck to push the bill through our undeniably broken congress to reauthorize and fund this 50 year old success story.

Until then though, it’s hunting season. More importantly, it’s the week before general rifle opener and my web browser has the atlas open at all times so I can figure out what my plan of attack will be on that bomber muley buck somewhere deep in Coulee country.

Check out the Sportsman's Atlas here:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Otter Attack at the Pond

By Bob Ralph

My pond and my dogs bring me so much joy.  I put out nest boxes and have raised several broods of wood ducks on the pond.  I love watching the ducklings grow and the adults dive-bomb in and out.  Also, I enjoy raising fish, even catching hoppers for them, so my grandsons can catch them.

Then there are the predators.  Great-horned owls and other aerial predators take many of my young woodies, while kingfishers, great blue herons, and of course otters catch many of my fish.  Even bears enjoy swimming in the pond.

At mid-day on September 20,  I went outside and noticed several otters in the pond.  It was a female with two young who looked to be two years old.  As I walked toward the pond with my dog Ivy, I was surprised the otters didn't take off. Ivy is half black lab and half border collie, and very smart, but she had never encountered otters.  As I circled the pond to get closer the otters swam to the middle.  

Even my yelling and arm-waving did not scare them away.  As I turned to circle back I noticed Ivy swimming out to greet the otters. She looked to be only a little bigger than the otter coming at her.  The mother otter took off to “greet” Ivy but I could tell her real intentions.  

When they met, and to my surprise, Ivy was immediately dragged completely under water.  When they surfaced, Ivy was howling, but only had a second before she was pulled down again.  Again they came up, only to submerge again.  This time Ivy stayed down, so after a few expletives, I waded in.  

About ten feet out, they popped-up right in front of me, with the otter staring right at me.  Acting on adrenalin and instinct, I tried to thump the otter on the head, but it ducked under water.  Out of the corner of my eye I see Ivy making a break for shore, and not seeing the otter I turn to leave, but two steps later I felt a searing pain in my left arm above the elbow.  

At first my brain didn’t make the connection, but then I realized- that little shit bit me!   I’ve had some crazy encounters and wild adventures, but I thought, I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten by an otter.

Soaked and bleeding, I walked back to the house to call “now care” but realized my phone was wet too.  So I drove into Missoula with a very anxious but subdued Ivy. Amazingly, she only had a minor cut on her ear. I’m guessing the otter grabbed the thick fur on her sides to pull her under.

After a tetanus shot and stitches I headed home. 

Amazingly, reading through yahoo news headlines the next day, I read an article about a young boy being attacked by an otter and his grandma rescuing him.   They received over a hundred stitches.  Otters truly are the supreme predator in the water.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gettin’ game? Good. Now learn to cut it like a pro.

By: Grant Alban

It’s mid October.  You’re in shape.  You've hiked ridges and scouted all summer long.  Your rifle is sighted in and your boots fit like a glove.  You've got your tags and you know the country like the back of your hand.  You’re confident you’ll be pulling into the “Hunters With Game” line at the Game Check Station. 

You've literally left no detail unaccounted for in preparation for this year’s hunting season. 

Fast forward a few weeks.  The pressure is off and elk quarters are hanging in your garage.  Your knives are sharp and you just bought a new vacuum sealer.  There is only one more thing to do to close out another successful Montana big game season – butcher your meat. 

But ask yourself this: do you know how to properly butcher an animal?  If you’re like most of us out there, you don’t.  Sure, we've all cut up our game – some of us many times over.  We’ve separated muscle groups and spent hours hunkered over a table, backs aching as we try to remove the last of the stubborn silverskin.  In the end, our freezers are full and we sit back with a grin of contentment.

But wouldn't it be nice to really butcher the animal?  To pull meat off the barbecue for dinner guests and explain to them exactly what cut they are eating that evening?  Imagine yourself saying, “Enjoy this elk T-Bone, my friend,” or “What do you think about that muley’s top sirloin, bro?” 

Learn how to properly butcher an animal, and the lessons will pay dividends for the rest of your hunting life.  Or don’t, and always refer to every cut as a “steak.” 

If you live in or around Missoula, consider coming out next Wednesday October 22 to join local hunters like you and me who are looking to hone their meat cutting skills.  We’ll be gathering for an evening of a live butcher demonstration, complete with hearty specialty off-cut appetizers (can anyone say duck rolls?), and local beer to boot. Only thing – tickets are limited. Get yours today ($12 student, $15 regular) at:

Grant Alban is a member of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and works as a Development Associate for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Grant lives for hunting season and enjoys elk and antelope hunting. He also finds time to guide his wonderful wife down Montana’s rivers while she casts to rising cutthroat trout. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sending in the Cavalry

In case you missed it, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, arguably one of the most respected hunting organizations in the United States,issued a strong statement against the sale and transfer of public lands. This is a big deal for several reasons, not the least of which is that David Allen, CEO of the Elk Foundation, is taking a stand where a lot of other single species oriented, big money groups refuse to go: Supporting the public land hunter.

To be sure, there are many groups who have been fighting this fight for a long while now. Hellgate Hunters & Anglers, The Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana Bowhunters were the first groups to stand up during the interim and say that the concept of transfer would lead to more taxes and less access. Those organizations are usually on point when it comes to protecting our public lands and they deserve our gratitude and our membership.

But so does the Elk Foundation. Few organizations in the U.S. have as much clout or standing among those of us who hunt and love public lands as the Elk Foundation. For a large and politically wary group like RMEF to be as publicly opposed to the poorly thought out transfer concept is a break from the usual, quiet, way they do business.

There will be those who take swipes at RMEF for standing up for the vast majority of elk hunters. Winston Chuchill once said “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up  for something, sometime in your life.” 

We’re proud to stand up with RMEF and oppose this land transfer. The harsh reality is that the concept is being proposed by out-of-state special interest groups who want to take your land and give it away. It’s being proposed by the same people who have stood up and yelled at the top of their lungs that “The state can’t manage what it has now and needs to get rid of land before buying more.”

It’s a lie wrapped up in the American Flag and served with a side of apple pie. But it’s still a lie. The truth is that the state cannot afford to add 31 million acres of public lands to the management duties of state government without significantly increased how much money we spend. That means the taxpayer of Montana would now pick up the $360 million a year bill to manage these lands with no guarantee of access or multiple use management that respects the needs of hunters, anglers and wildlife.

For every westerner and every Montanan, the concept should represent everything that’s wrong with the real issues surrounding public lands management. We need more collaboration and less divisiveness.
We need more groups like RMEF to stand up and be counted when it comes to opposing this poorly thought out land grab.

Well done, RMEF. Who’s next?