Monday, September 30, 2019

Winter Wonderland

Ok, so here's the deal. We were suppose to get one of the biggest September storms on record out here in Montana so everyone bailed on their trips. I certainly don't blame them but what it did, was give me an opportunity to get out and chase elk again. It's much better to be hiking in these kinds of conditions than rowing a boat and trying to tie flies on or untangling leaders. Saturday was brutal with gusty winds up to 50 mph and even worse. But Sunday, things calmed down; the woods were quiet and elk were on the move.

I didn't get a shot off but I was into elk almost from the start. I bumped a group of cows out of one drainage and then ran into another group on the other side of the ridge. I was about 50 yards from them before they noticed me. Walking through the timber is tough, though. Elk always seem to know how to get behind trees. 

About an hour before dark, a couple bulls started talking. They were close and I was able to cut one of their tracks. I actually walked up on this bull but again, even at 50 yards in the timber, this bull didn't present a shot. It was also tough to see if he was even legal. He did have short brow tines but whether or not they were long enough to be legal, I'm not totally sure. I know the other bull I was hearing, definitely sounded like a bigger bull. 

On the way out, I also witnessed another bull walking across a meadow. He was probably a quarter mile away, so no chance of getting in on him before dark. He was definitely legal and I'll probably go back after him tonight. 

It's a kind of weird time for elk hunting. I bumped two groups of cows that weren't being chased by a bull. The bulls I did find were by themselves or with another bull. I guess the rut is over for the most part. That doesn't mean it's not worth going out. Some cows haven't been bred yet and will continue to go into estrous for the next couple weeks. There's a chance a bull tries to find one of the lingering cows to get with.

The other thing is these elk don't want to hear a cow call. The first group was about 150 yards across a drainage. I gave a cow call to try to get the attention of a bull if he was there and they bugged out. The same thing with the bulls I was hearing and the one I got into. As soon as I hit the cow call, they either shut up or just walked away. They wanted nothing to do with me.  

I ran into these guys a week and a half ago as I was getting ready to head up a drainage. We talked about the lack of bulls talking and they suggested it was because of the wolves in the area. I'm sorry but I just don't buy that. I've written about this before and also talked about it on "The Montana Dream Cast." Elk and wolves have been living side-by-side for thousands of years. Why is it now that wolves would be making elk change their breeding habits? The other thing is if you go into Yellowstone this time of the year, bulls are screaming non-stop. There are wolves all around them and they still talk. It's not the wolves it's the amount of hunters using calls to locate them. It's made the elk more cautious and they won't respond to a shitty call. I guess I'll need to get better. 

Today is inspection day on the new house. We are set to close on the 17th of October. I'm guessing the inspection is not going to go well as far as pointing out red-flags. There is a ton of work that will need to get done and the house is being sold, "as is." There are no contingencies and the owner is not going to address any issues. It will be on me to decide how much work I want to put into the property. The thing is, not lot alone is worth what I'm paying for the place and I'm out of options. It's going to be a lot of work but I'm excited to get started. I'll keep you all in the loop. 

Keep 'em where they live...

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Left Turn-Under Contract

I've written about the book, "Who Moved My Cheese" before. If you don't know it, you should check it out. It's less than 100 pages so it would only take you an afternoon to read it. It deals with change or how we deal with change. Change is scary. When it's not your choice, it can definitely piss you off but eventually, you have find a new source of cheese or "you can become extinct."

My cheese has been moved a lot this past year and it hasn't been fun. My house was taken from me. I moved into a rental and that was taken. I moved into another rental and then that was taken. In the book, the author suggests we should take change not so much as an end to something but a beginning of something else. Sounds good, right? It's kind of simple and it doesn't really address the sense of loss but it is a valuable lesson. The other thing is how much cheese has to be moved before you crumble? I mean, constant change, especially traumatic change, doesn't really allow for much peace. The bottom line, someone or some people have moved my cheese so now I'm making my own.

I just signed a contract on this house. I'm tired of the rug being pulled out from under me so I'm doing something about it. Yeah, I know. Look at the photos and you might ask, "What the hell are you doing?" Looks more like moldy cheese, right? Well, here's the deal. I'm an independent contractor that doesn't show a lot of income. I don't have anyone to co-sign a mortgage so this is all I can get.

Disgusting, right? I know. The guy that lived here was a hoarder. But here's the deal; as much as I say this is all I can afford, it's also kind of a blessing. I'm serious. This house was to be listed by the trustee of the hoarder as a complete tear down. I got it for $60K! Yeah, I know. It's a ton of work but $60K!? 

Since I first looked at it, all the garbage--even in the garage--has been thrown out. What was left behind was kind of gross but you have to look past that. Everything comes out but the beauty is, there's still some good bones and a new sewer hook-up and hot water heater. The lot alone is worth what I'm paying. 

The house was original built pre-1900. My guess is it was built for a miner. At some point an addition was added as well as a new roof and siding. The foundation has settled so the floors are far from level. BUT, that can all be fixed.

This is going to be a huge project for me and the scary thing is I'm going to be doing it, for the most part, by myself. I do have friends in the construction world; mainly Stephen Caldwell, who will help point me in the right direction, but I will be doing the designing and the majority of the work. It's scary but it's going to be fun. This winter will be a challenge. Come along on this left turn with The Montana Dream.

Keep 'em where they live...

P.S. I'm still guiding and work as much as possible. I'm also still hunting.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Elk Roast

The other day I headed out into the mountains to procure some of this. Elk meat. I really like elk but I'll be honest, cooking the roasts has been a little difficult lately. It seemed to always turn out dry and tough but I have a few left over from an elk I shot a couple years ago and I need to use it. The steaks are almost gone and the ground meat is something that gets used up pretty quick as well but those roasts; they're the only thing I hesitate to use because I'm almost always disappointed. I even thought of cooking one with a pork roast just to see if the combination of the two would somehow add moisture and flavor to the elk. (My mom actually used to do that all the time with beef roasts.)

So before heading out into the mountains, I loaded up the crock pot with a frozen elk shoulder, some veggies, cream of mushroom soup and about a cup of cooking wine. I seasoned the elk with salt and pepper. I used to try doing rosemary and tarragon and some other stuff but I realized over-seasoning the meat wasn't good. I forgot to put garlic with this roast, which was the only thing I think I would have changed.

I set the pot to low heat and headed out. I knew I would be gone for about 8 hours before getting back home. I hiked for about 5 hours and covered roughly 4 and half miles. Every once in a while, I'd think about that roast. I was getting hungry. I remembered how my mom's roasts would taste and then I would think back to previous elk roasts as to not get my hopes too high.

I heard an elk bugle and went after him. He was pretty intent on answering my calls until I got about 300 yards out and then he went silent. As I walked away, he started talking again. That's been kind of the deal so far because the bulls just aren't ready to get after yet. But at least I located one. I hiked back to the truck thinking about that roast.

It takes me an hour and a half to drive back to Helena from where I was hunting. I was fricken starving. I brought some snacks but I really wanted that roast to turn out.

I parked my truck and didn't even unload my stuff before unlocking the door and heading into my house to be greeted by Cutter and the aroma of that roast. It smelled absolutely amazing. It was all I could do to let Cutter out and feed him before diving in.

I dished up a plate and cautiously took a bite. It melted in my mouth. It was unbelievable and makes me motivated to put some more roasts in the freezer. Apparently, less is more and you just gotta let it cook.

I went out last night to another area where I'd had some success in the past. I was going to make a video of the hunt but my mic wasn't working so all the video I took was useless. I will say though, that the elk are getting restless. Right at the end of shooting light, I heard three different bulls and they started sounding like they were getting to another level of frustration and urgency. This week should be good.

Keep 'em where they live...

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Track Soup

Apparently, they missed one...

I went scouting a week before archery season opened and found this sign. They have since taken the sign down so I'm assuming they have removed the traps as well. The wolf track from above was from yesterday after a pretty big rain storm so it's fresh.

From the sign, it looks like they were trying to relocate these wolves, which doesn't make a ton of sense except the fact that there are some cattle in the area and maybe the ranchers were losing some cows. Otherwise, this is pretty fricken burly back country were I'm hunting so I figure they belong there too.

As for the elk's track soup right now. I've seen sign but haven't gotten into them yet. In fact, I've hiked about 14 miles in the last three days and I've only heard one bugle and it was a long ways away. I know there are elk up there and I'm not worried about the wolves. They'll push them around a little but when the bulls are ready, they'll start talking.

I'm not a big supporter of the theory that wolves make elk stop bugling. Elk and wolves have been occupying the same places for thousands of years and elk still talked. Next week should be go-time. This weekend was a lot of scouting.

Here's a couple signs I'm at least barking up the right tree. The bulls will start moving around, looking for cows and bring them back into these areas. The cows are where the food and water is but as things get more heated up with the rut, they will be back and they'll be talking.

A couple things I'll share with you that will save on your feet if you decide to take on elk hunting in Montana. First, buy good boots. Captain obvious, right? Make sure they are water-proof! I do leather because I can treat leather and they tend to last longer and stay dryer. Along with that, change out the insoles. I know, you spend a couple hundred bucks on a pair of boot and then you're suppose to change the insoles with a $40 insert? Yeah. Trust me. The original inserts are meant to fit the average user. Nobody is average. Go to a sporting goods store that sells Soft Sole inserts and have them test your individual arch and get the right inserts. You'll thank me.

The other purchase I made last year is the Onyx app for my phone. This WILL save you miles of hiking. I used to play a game with myself of trying figure out my way out of the woods with just a compass. There was something a little twisted in my psyche with liking the feeling of being lost and having the knowledge or the where-with-all to find my way out. I'm pretty sure that came from getting lost while making a deer hunting drive to my dad when I was 10 years old. It scared the crap out of me. I was lost for about 6 hours and hiked around 5 or 6 mile before finding my way out. Ever since then, I just kind of liked that feeling of being lost and the challenge of figuring it out. Unfortunately, that has also led to me hiking off the wrong side of a mountain and being 10 miles from my truck. I'm getting too old for that so now I set the tracker on my app and I use it. I never get lost. I might get "turned around" from time to time but I always make it right back to the truck.

If you have a hand-held GPS, try Onyx. You'll love it. It's so much more powerful than the hand-held because it uses your screen on your phone for graphics. If you're hunting in areas that doesn't have cell coverage, you'll have to download your area map before you go but that's pretty easy. You should have a good idea before you head out anyway of where you're going to hunt. Set the phone on airplane mode and set the app to "off-line" and it works way better. But you can track yourself, set way points and easily reference previous tracks to get back to places you've already hunted. Plus, all the updates are easily downloaded as well as new features like weather settings, and various map layers including hunting districts, Govt. lands, block management, CWD mgmt areas and more. It's pretty damn cool and again, way easier to read than your hand-held and WAY CHEAPER.

Keep 'em where they live...

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Opening Day

Packers are first in the NFC North!!!

It's also opening weekend for archery season and I'm stoked! I live for this time of the year--hunting and football--two of my favorite things. I'll be telling many stories of hunting this fall. I've been working my ass off and I'm ahead of where I was last year at this time for my business so I'm good. I'm going to enjoy a lighter guide schedule to spend more time in the woods chasing elk. That doesn't mean I'm giving up on booking trips. I certainly will work as days come up but I'm going to enjoy the days I have open.

You ever watch someone have a total meltdown over a football game and wonder why they're getting so pissed off over something they have absolutely no control over? It's silly, right? I'd be lying if I said I haven't engaged in that kind of behavior to some degree myself but I'm getting better.

We align ourselves with a team and when that team loses, we lose and humans by nature, don't like to lose. It's symbolic. It shapes who we are, somehow. To a larger degree, it also shows we're not in control of the outcome and that doesn't feel very good. Some folks have a tougher time with that. I see it all the time in the boat.

A guy hooks a fish. The fish takes off and the first thing the guy does is grabs hold of the line and his rod and pulls back. He plays tug-a-war with the fish and unless you're throwing a size 4 crayfish pattern on 0X tippet material, the fish is always going to win.

"Let 'em run! Let 'em run!" We all say but it's too late. The fish breaks off and the dude is left feeling defeated and frustrated.

There are only two things that an angler can control when they're hooked up on a fish. That's the rod and their line. That's it. As soon as he or she tries to control the fish, they lose. Keep the rod bent, which has a lot to do with controlling your line and stripping in when the fish runs toward the boat and loosening up on your grip to allow the fish to run out and eventually, the fish will tire out and you'll land them. It's easy. Right? Just keep enough pressure on the fish and keep the rod bent. The problem is, however, people get anxious and they panic because they don't like to lose. They don't want to fail and they resort back to this habit of fighting back in order to try to gain control.

What's kind of interesting though, is the more a person hooks fish and starts to land them, the easier it gets. It's partly because they gain some skill but it's also; in large part, because they're more relaxed because they're not fearing losing the battle as much. They become calm and instead of fumbling around and gripping tight on the rod, they have the confidence to slow things down and get what they can, in control. And if they lose a battle, they know there will be another opportunity right around the corner. They also put things into perspective. It's just a fish. It's not going to determine the rest of  their life.

I fished with a guy last week that absolutely, couldn't care less about landing fish. He would hook them and come tight, fight them for a little while and then would lose them and wouldn't even bat an eye. He'd just reel in his line, get himself back into a good position and start casting again. This guy had obviously caught a ton of fish in his life and losing a battle really wasn't on his mind. He just enjoyed being on the river and tricking a few fish and he was good with that.

I think of things in my life where I feel that kind of confidence and that sense of peace in where I'm at. Fishing and guiding to a large degree are that for me. I've caught enough fish. There are certainly fish I would like to have landed or seen clients land but I know there will be others. Hunting ducks and whitetails is another area in my life where I'm good with where I'm at. I've shot enough and although I still really enjoy getting out, I'd just as soon teach others and watch them be successful.

Where's the tipping point though or the balance with things that still excite you? Isn't that where passion comes from? With archery hunting for elk for instance, I still get jacked. I still get nervous--probably even more-so now than a few years ago when I didn't really expect to be successful. Maybe that's a deal. I expect to shoot one now so there's pressure to be successful--to be in control. But that balance is fun, you know? That's why we do it, right?

This idea of control is interesting to me. We want control because it makes us feel safe. We know the outcome and we know how to deal with it but we also put ourselves in a position of losing control all the time, which makes life fun. We ride roller coasters. We hunt with a bow and arrow, which isn't easy. Some folks gamble and know they can't totally be in control of the outcome but perceive they have some control as long as they always bet on a certain number or sit at the same slot machine. We take risks and are rewarded if everything works out just right and the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. We like to live on the edge of a perception of control.

Here's where this turns to introspection and where I might lose you. In every relationship I've been in, it ended. Those endings hurt--some more than others. (Some were actually a relief.) For some of us, relationships cause a lot of anxiety because the reality is, they never work and it always hurts. We hook a partner and we really want it to work out but it never has so when they start pulling away or we perceive that they are pulling away or there's some conflict, we pull back. It's like that 18 inch rainbow the dude hooks and as soon as he feels the trout pulling, he starts playing tug-a-war. He's trying his damn-dist to gain control over something he has no control over and instead of focusing on what he can control, he fumbles around trying to get a better grip and he loses it.

I had a client once tell me that anyone who's had a long-term relationship fail has PTSD. I wonder if there's any truth to that? What is PTSD anyway? It's stress or anxiety created from trauma. More importantly, it's the fear of having that trauma again. It's a feeling of a lack of control over that trauma. When we fear that trauma, we fight back. We don't like it. We want it to go away. It's irrational but it's real and it causes folks to act out.

If you've lived at all, there are probably things you've gone through that elicit anxiety. Control what you can control and it will work out. I keep trying to tell myself that.

Okay. I get it. It's time to stop rambling but you know what? You're still reading so....

There is something I can control and that's putting myself in a good position to shoot an elk in the next few weeks. I'm going to focus on that and oh yeah, GO PACK GO!

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, September 2, 2019

Living Through the Storm: A new chapter for The Montana Dream

I haven't been updating the blog very often this season. Partly because I've been so busy but partly because I didn't want to go down a path of sucking readers into what has been an incredibly challenging year for me. These blogs and social media with Instagram and Facebook make life sound so perfect, right? All you see is the grip and grins and hear about how awesome the fishing is or the hunting or how life is just sunshine and roses but the reality is, life can suck. Shit happens and the last year it feels like I have been followed around by a storm cloud like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh only my cloud is a flock of pelicans. You ever see how much poo comes out of a pelican?

I've had to move three times in the last year. The first time was getting kicked out of a house and a family I put my heart and soul into. I've never been hurt so badly. Then two houses I have rented have either been turned into duplexes or sold shortly after moving in. I'm tired of moving. I'm tired of having the rug ripped out from underneath me. The anger consumes me and unfortunately, it has also put a strain on those people that actually care about me and I'm sorry.

About the only time I feel normal is when I'm on the river. The background noise goes away when I'm guiding. I focus on the task at hand and I'm in my element. And I'm good at it. The crazy thing is through all the crap that has gone on around me, when I'm on the water and I'm with clients, calm comes. It's not just the fishing. It's facilitating an experience for someone who really values what we give. I've gotten to a place in guiding where nothing really rattles me, (except maybe 70 year-old Jersey boys getting high at lunch and not being able to get their fly-line out of the's a long story.) I teach. I coach. I get people to catch fish but mostly I give to strangers all I have in order to make their time on the water an experience that lasts a lifetime. It's given me peace but there has to be more and I've found myself in a place where I need to find that, "more."

For a lot of people that 'more' is their family. They give to their kids. They find joy in seeing their kids grow up and be happy. I don't have that. I thought I had a version of that but I don't anymore. I'm forty-nine years old and that desire or that dream is gone. I have to accept that and it's been really hard. I'm not going to lie. It's the paradox of living the dream, right? I have an amazing life. I get to spend my time on the water. I get paid to float down one of the most beautiful and most productive trout streams in the world. I get to go on golf trips to the desert in the middle of the winter. But all that comes with a cost...

Part of what I love about guiding is that I get to meet some pretty amazing people. A group of guys come out every year and fish with John LaRue and myself. They're psychiatrists. They're world renowned psychiatrists. We've been guiding them for six years now and we've had our challenges but through those challenges, I've personally seen a lot of growth and I've gotten a lot more out of my time with them than just a paycheck. I'm not talking about psychotherapy. It's not like I put a couch in my boat and these guys bust out the pipe and start analyzing. They're just good dudes and they care and they offer support.

This summer, one of the guys couldn't make the trip so we had an odd number. That meant either John or myself had a single angler each of the four days we guided them. The last day, I took the single. Clint and I headed over to the Blackfoot to do a walk-wade fishing trip while John took the other two anglers on the Missouri to float. The wade-fishing can be physically demanding and isn't for everyone but Clint really enjoys getting on the small water and I love the break from floating the Mo. I know it sounds a little selfish but I guide about 115 days on the Missouri and John only guides part-time during the summer and teaches in the winter so he usually offers up those wade-trips to me.

That time of the year in June, water temps high up on the Blackfoot are too cold in the morning for fish to get moving. It usually doesn't happen until late morning and into the afternoon so Clint and I had a couple hours to stop off for breakfast and chat before hitting the river. Clint shared his place in life and what he does for "self-care," which made me think of where I'm at and what I need to do. This idea of self-care...we talked a lot about what that might mean for me.

This isn't a new place for me. When I was twenty-one, I was engaged. When that didn't work out, I became selfish. I was working as a restaurant manager and I hated it. I only did it because I needed to support my fiance and her child so when that relationship ended, I quit managing and got back into music. I lived for MY dreams. I traveled around the world as a guitarist in a musical production. At twenty-seven, I went back to school and graduated with my a degree in sociology. In the summers, I was a camp counselor and even got my life-guarding certification so I could lead groups of teens into the Boundary Waters Canoeing Area Wilderness. I then went to grad school and taught undergraduate classes at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I taught statistics!! I hated stats too, folks but I pushed myself to be really good at it. And then I moved to Montana to work in the back country with adjudicated youth in a program called Alternative Youth Adventures. That's where my life changed dramatically. That's when I was introduced to fly-fishing. It's when I learned what I was really passionate about and it's when I learned exactly what I wanted to be.

From the first trout I caught on a fly-rod to my first guide-trip was about 5 years. I've been guiding now for 13 seasons. I have my ups and downs and it certainly hasn't been all sunshine and roses but it's the longest career or job I've ever had by a long shot. This process of self-care brought me here. Even though I didn't know exactly what I was doing, it is what I was doing and what I need to get back to now.

So what does this mean for The Montana Dream? I don't know yet. What I know isn't going to happen is I'm not going to get in trouble at for leaving a coffee cup sitting on the counter. I'm also not going to have to argue for days over whether or not to use subway tile in a shower enclosure. If I buy a house and remodel it, there won't be subway tile in the bathroom or the kitchen. It will be my choice and I will do what I want this time. (Sorry about the diversion.)

I also know that I'm going to go to the desert again to golf this winter. That was so awesome last year. I met some great people and got to hang out in short sleeves while it was negative 4 in Montana. I might even go to the Keys for some saltwater fly-fishing. Hell, I might even go all the way to New Zealand to fish and nobody is going to tell me I'm being selfish for wanting to fish on a vacation.

When I worked for Alternative Youth Adventures, we had this guiding principle that went like this: "When you lose yourself in the service of others, you find your 'self'." I still believe in that. In fact, when I look back at all the things I've done while in the self-care mode, most of it was serving others. I'm still going to guide. That's a huge part of who I am and what I can do for others. But I am going to go on this journey for my 'self'.

I always wanted to write a book. I'm going to do that this winter. It's not going to be a book of memoirs because nobody really cares that much about me. It's also not going to be a "how-to" book to fly-fishing. That's already been done way too many times. It will be fiction. I'm going to write a novel and I'm going take you on a ride you'll hopefully never forget.

But right now, I'm still crazy into hunting. In fact, I saw about 100 elk yesterday driving back from the river on the Sieben Flats and they are already bugling and rounding up cows. It's early but it's happening. Archery season doesn't even start until next weekend and seeing that has definitely put me into hunting mode. I hope you join me on the journey.

Keep 'em where they live...