28 February 2014

Montana Hunting: Mule Deer, Pronghorn Antelope, and Elk in the Butte Area

[Warning: Dead animal photos ahead.]

I generally hunt close to home. In part, this is because there is very good hunting in the Butte/Big Hole River watershed area; it's also because every minute spent driving is one less minute spent hunting.

Pronghorn antelope season begins in early October, two weeks before the general deer and elk season. It's generally a pleasant time to hike around the hills. At first glance, it seems that the sagebrush prairie is flat and monotonous, with no way to stalk such a sharp-eyed creature. The low hills and coulees, however, offer excellent cover so long as the antelope don't see you first:

They do tend to be shy of roads, though I try not to hunt more than a mile or so from the nearest two track. Otherwise, the get pretty heavy (it's usually easier to carry than drag on the barren, rocky, cactus-strewn ground):

My friend and colleague Keith, a pilgrim from the Midwest, became an antelope hunter this year. Here he is, creeping through the sagebrush to get within rifle range of a herd bedded in a coulee:

A glacial boulder makes for good cover and a steady rest:

Thank you. We will honor your spirit and use your flesh well:

My "Little Brother" AJ, then a student down at the University of Montana, joined me for a mule deer hunt. He has the sharp eyes of youth, and often spots deer that I can barely see with binoculars. He has also become an excellent judge of range and an accurate marksman (I killed a smaller buck with a much closer shot!):

Though a long haul back to the truck, it was worth it for this fine, heavy-bodied buck:

We use non-toxic all-copper Barnes bullets, partly to avoid poisoning eagles and other carrion feeders:

And partly to avoid poisoning ourselves. I found this lead fragment in some sausage a friend gave me:

We like the organic, free-range meat that comes with hunting, but the view is outstanding too. Here's my friend and colleague Frank taking a bead on a mule deer, with an interesting spiral cloud on the horizon:

Hunting deer and antelope can be a social affair, but I often myself in the solitary pursuit of elk. I cover a lot of miles. In an area where the timber was cut in the late 19th century, I found a sawyer's file on a stump. I'll bet the man who lost it had about $2.00 (a day's wages and the cost of a saw file c. 1900) deducted from his paycheck:

The triangular file's sides were made to fit the angle of teeth in a crosscut saw blade:

 One area I hunted was shared by another large predator, as evidenced by this partially eaten and cached mule deer:

I saw the other hunter's tracks (I estimate a 150-pound+ male) several times, and one evening while hiking back to the truck got a glimpse of the actual mountain lion. Big kitty:

The cougar's presence did not seem to noticeably reduce the deer or elk population, and in mid-November a new storm brought fresh snow that quieted the crusted snow from late-September and early-October storms. Circling a basin high above a road, I cut fresh tracks and followed them to where the elk were bedded. The lead cow and several others crashed away before I could even bring the rifle to my shoulder, but this fat young cow lingered for just a second:

It took two days to haul the meat out, thanks to the help of my friend Dave. With the freezer full, it was time to roast the Thanksgiving turkey, sharpen the ski edges, and give thanks to this beautiful land:

Bow Hunting for Elk in Southwest Montana

Heraclitus observed "You cannot step in the same river twice," and that's generally true of all experience with nature. Before hunting season began, lots of elk were showing up at my old Indian-pit blind near a prairie spring:

I bow hunted for elk a number of days and saw them almost every day--always well out of bow range, at 60 yards or so...A series of mid-September snowstorms made conditions difficult--the elk no longer sought water at the spring, and the crusty snow made stalking impossible:

No complaints, mind you. September and early-October are glorious times to be afield. There is always something to observe, whether a young curious coyote:

or the ever-present pronghorn antelope herd: 

There also seemed to be more mule deer this year:

Given the conditions, I did a lot of "hiking" (bow in hand) in places I don't normally hunt. One day in on a north-facing ridge in a thick Douglass fir stand, I came upon moose:

and white-tailed deer. I was surprised both to see white-tails in this mule deer habitat and that they let me approach so closely. I was tempted to shoot one, but (1) I have sort of a personal rule against shooting deer while elk hunting; and (2) the thick woods would probably have deflected my arrow:

The wet weather brought a big fall crop of mushrooms. I'm familiar with and enjoyed eating tasty giant puffballs (they seem to grow from the elk scat!):

but most wild fungi are a strictly a matter of visual appreciation for me:

At first glance, this little caterpillar friend looks like a common "Wooly Bear," but I think it's a Spotted Tussock Moth:

I recall one sunset especially well. Though beautiful, it was followed by a hard rain storm that soaked me to the skin, chilled me to the bone, blinded me with lightning, and rattled my soul with thunder on the mile-long walk back to the truck: 

The road to and from my blind crosses an outcrop of weathered volcanic ash. When wet, this clay-like bentonite stuck to my tires and made driving across the ridge a dangerous proposition. To cross the few hundred feet of gumbo safely, I had to stop several times and scrape the tires:

As dangerous as the lightning storm and road was, I was even more concerned about the half-wild range cattle. Some of the bulls that visited the spring could be downright aggressive: 

When archery season ended, I laid up my bow and took down the rifle. I had put no meat in the freezer, but had harvested a season of happy memories.

27 February 2014

New Orleans Brought Me Back

Well, after a long blog-vacation, I'm back. As a superficial reason for my absence, I've been busy--Department Head duties at My Little College can be all-consuming, if you let them. But that's not the real reason for my long absence. It's more a matter of what the 19th century Romantics called Weltschmerz--that world weariness that makes you feel as if God's dog just died. And you really liked the dog.

I'm happy to say that some combination of lengthening daylight and a trip to New Orleans has brought me back to the Blogosphere. The former is easy enough to understand--even with southwest Montana's notoriously clear blue skies there's not sunshine in December-January. More importantly, I think, was New Orleans--and not just the parades and waxing Mardi Gras celebration, either. No, I was in NOLA for a conference hosted by Tulane's environmental law program and organized by the law students. Their sense of optimism for the future was truly refreshing, as was their selection of topics and lineup of speakers.

Top of the list, for me, was Marcus Eriksen, the adventurer who floated the entire Mississippi River in the Bottle Rocket (a boat made of plastic bottles) and who spoke about the five giant ocean gyres that collect trash from our consumption-mad world:

OK, humans of Earth: quit with the trash already--if you don't recycle/reuse it or keep it for a lifetime,  don't buy it. Think of what you buy/use as a cradle-to-grave process. Otherwise, you are part of the problem of killing the oceans:

OK, I won't bore you with a lot of what I learned in other sessions about the need to stop menhaden fishing, face up to what Global Warming/rising seas/bigger storms will do to human life in and around New Orleans, and mediate environmental and social problems caused by big hydroelectric projects in China. So, Laissez les bons temps rouler

Thanks to a hot tip from one of the Tulane law students, we found The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen's Street: 

What a great club! The few nights we could spend there were amazing, with bands like Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses

And Ecirb Muller and Twisted Dixie: 

The latter also featured a guest set by an incredible jazz and scat singer (sorry, didn't get her name): 

In NOLA, some of the best music is out on the streets. We were graced with rocking duo Tanya & Dorise

As well as this weirdly out-of-place yet totally fitting gospel a capella group: 

Speaking of the church, we also took in St Louis Cathedral:

As a sort of womb-to-tomb tour that W.B. Yeats might have organized, we paid the
de rigueur cemetery visit, taking in St Louis Cemetery Number 1. Mrs Rover especially liked the tomb built by the Italian Mutual Benefit Society (you might recognize it from the movie Easy Rider): 

The tomb of Marie Laveau, the high priestess of Voodoo, is also here: 

 All that walking and dancing makes a body hungry. Pretty sure you can find some decent food in NOLA, oysters and beer (and po'boys, and gumbo, and jamabalya etc all good!): 

And parades? Did I mention parades? Can't hardly shake a crawdad claw without hitting one. There were lots of chances for Mrs Rover to earn her beads, hehehe:

It's good to be back. I look forward to hearing your comments and checking our my fellow bloggers' recent posts.