Friday, December 8, 2017

The Montana Dream Cast: Duck Hunting Tips, CWD in Montana, and Those Damn Walleye Guys

Scott and I opened up the show debating the authenticity of purchasing trees from The Home Depot versus going out and hunting for one on your own; not to mention, it's only $5 for the tree permit. This is the one we harvested out in the National Forest.

Check out the podcast for all that's happening in the hunting and fishing world with The Montana Deam Cast:

Duck Hunting Tips, CWD in Montana, and Those Damn Walleye Guys

Here are some of the news articles we were discussing:

More animals and more hunting opportunities? Sounds like the wolves aren't having as much of an impact as some hunters suggest.

Chronic wasting disease in Montana.

Someone introduced walleyes to Swan Lake. FWP and Trout Unlimited are offering big-time rewards to find out who.

We also give tips on duck hunting so I want to leave you with something that tends to get overlooked way too much:  PICK UP YOUR SHIT! Your mom, nor your wife, are on the river to pick up after you. I'M SO TIRED of seeing the spent shells, the water bottles and the energy drink cans left in the blinds on land that someone, who doesn't have to, has granted you permission to access. YOU A-HOLES should be ashamed of yourselves.

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, December 4, 2017

I Chose Beer

I know, everyone was waiting to hear if I went hunting or went for beers last Friday. Well, here you go. And if you haven't been to Ten Mile Creek Brewery yet, check them out the next time you're on the walking mall in Helena. The Montana Dream Cast definitely appreciates their support with sponsoring us. They provide the 'muscle,' if you know what I mean. When things go a bit south during the show, it's usually because we're a growler deep. Check it out, and remember, if there was beer in heaven it would probably be from Ten Mile Creek Brewery!

As for the waterfowl hunting, it has yet to materialize. We got early snow and cold about a month ago, which made it good for a while but that was also during the big game gun season. I got out a couple times after punching my tags and did well but those days are gone. We need more snow and more cold. 

Last night a couple inches dropped in the valley so today could be the day. We were out in it yesterday and didn't fire a shot. This has happened before though, were it's the day after all the snow when things get good but I'm not sure last night's storm was significant enough. The rest of the week looks like it will warm up again and no more snow in site so if it's not today, then we'll have to hope for another bigger system to stir things up. 

I was looking at my blog from last year and it was Dec. 7th when everything turned and the ducks started piling in. It's all weather dependent though and it doesn't look great anytime soon. It could be another late, epic season. We just have to be patient.

Keep 'em where they live...

Friday, December 1, 2017

What To Do?

I'm sitting here in my office, watching the geese fly by and I'm struggling with what to do this afternoon. Go hunting! Right? Well, I did that a couple days ago and it would appear that the ducks and geese that are around, have it all figured out. I watched as ducks landed in spots that you couldn't get to and geese sat in their little holding spots until 15 minutes before sunset, got up, flew 200 yards into a field and sat back down. In the spots you could get to, where there were birds; once they were bumped, they wouldn't come back.

"What are your options?" One might ask.

Well, I could put the Meat Wagon in and try a new spot or I could clean my shop and have a couple beers later at the local brewery and wait for weather to bring the freshies.

It seems like this is the time of the year where guys like me are chomping at the bit to get out and shoot some waterfowl so we'll jump the gun, so-to-speak and put the time into setting up decoys and building blinds and then sit for a couple hours only to watch hundreds of golden eyes fly by. The local ducks have moved on and although we had some weather pushing ducks down a few weeks ago, the snow has melted and those ducks have either moved on as well or they've spread back out along the front in little pockets of open water.

The beer is starting to look good but I keep seeing those damn geese flying by my window...dang!

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Time To Shine

The 2017 regular gun season for big game is closed now, so Cutter; you're up. That's right. We're going to load up the Meat Wagon with decoys and start getting after it really soon. 

If you're wondering about the "Meat Wagon," we had a little competition on The Montana Dream Cast to name my recent purchase of a duck/hunting boat and Scott Hirschi ruined it by coming up with the only real option so Meat Wagon it is. Look for T-shirts soon.

I actually have been out a couple times for waterfowl with some success. I've just been so busy cutting up meat from deer and elk that I didn't get a chance to report on it. It's kind of that early season, mixed bag time of the year so with the a few mallards I've been getting redheads, shovelers, gadwalls, and widgeons. We did a little taste test on the podcast where I cooked up the redheads and widgeons and I have to say, they were pretty damn good. That surprised me because redheads are diver ducks and I usually think those are pretty nasty. I was wrong. Check out the podcast for the full review:

Also, here's a link to Hank Shaw on Amazon so you can check out some of his cooking books. I used some of his tips from 'Duck, Duck, Goose' to cook the ducks.

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, November 20, 2017

One and Done?

It took me eleven seasons, hunting Minnesota and Wisconsin during the archery seasons and gun seasons to make it into the "Ten Pointer Club." Jill decided to try deer hunting this year--went hunting twice, saw two mountain lions and the first shot she has ever taken at big game, dropped this guy. 

Do you remember your first deer? I do. I had been hunting since I was twelve. I watched my brother shoot deer--our neighbors...friends. I didn't shoot my first deer until I was 17 and when it finally happened, it was more of a relief than any kind of sense of accomplishment.

It was almost like, "Finally! The monkey is off my back..." Now I can be one of  'those' guys on the plus side of the fence who can share stories of success rather than the same 'ole defeat of getting blanked year after year. 

I remember walking up on the deer after shooting it. I had made a good shot and the deer was dead before I got to it. I wasn't really sad but I know I felt a little bit of the weight one feels or should feel, when taking a deer's life. It's a heavy kind of feeling and a few of my friends actually admitted to shedding a tear or two after their first kill. 

A lot of what goes into that feeling of relief and sense of accomplishment, is just the lack of opportunities we had as kids, to shoot deer. Don't get me wrong. We had a lot of deer in Minnesota but we also had a lot of competition for those deer on public lands. We also had to try to get it done during a nine-day season with school and work getting in the way. I remember spending entire gun seasons not even seeing a deer, which can get incredibly frustrating and defeating. Hunting in the West is different and if you have a good 'in' on a ranch, that definitely helps. 

I have a really good relationship with a landowner west of Great Falls who let's me hunt his property. Most of the time, I take out kids or folks who have never shot a deer to this spot because it doesn't get a lot of pressure and we usually get our opportunities. And we usually see some good deer but I'd rather save these spots and these deer for the rookies and new-comers rather than the trophy hunters including myself. The landowner appreciates that as well. He's all about getting kids and other people into the outdoors that normally wouldn't get the chance to have this kind of experience or feel the sense of accomplishment it truly is to take a buck like this.

Jill, Patrick and I left the truck yesterday just as the sun was coming up. We had parked in the bottom of a drainage. The plan was to hike up a few hundred yards to an outcropping of rocks that looked over a coulee that fed down to the main drainage. We didn't get very far before spotting a couple deer opposite the outcropping where we were headed, at the top of the ridge above us. 

"There! Look." I said as I brought my binoculars up. "Oh man, it's a doe and a good buck. Really good buck. We gotta go." Plan B went into effect. 

The three of us dropped into a small coulee that fed down from where we spotted the deer. It gave us just enough cover to get down-wind of the deer and out of sight until we were in range of getting a shot. As we got to the top, I peaked over and spotted the buck chasing the doe only about 100 yards away. We all got down and crawled about 40 yards to where Jill could get up on her knees, put the .270 Ruger Hawkeye on the sticks and get a shot. 

When you look at the photo, it's pretty obvious we were in some wide-open country. If we can see the deer at 50 or 60 yards, they can see us. Things have to happen pretty damn quick and even though this is private land, these whitetails aren't like the mule deer. When they see or sense something not quite right, they get the hell out of Dodge and when they do, they don't stop for anything until they are well out of sight. 

I wanted to tell Jill to aim a little low on the deer. We were close and the bullet is still rising at that distance. Plus, I had sited the gun in for 200 yards. Even at 100 yards, the bullet would hit a little high.

We watched the deer as it circled a couple times, chasing the doe. One second it was facing away, head down, nose curled up sniffing the doe and the next; spinning, looking directly at us--head up and neck extended. It was impressive with its thick neck all rutted up, nostrils flared, feet together almost like a bull ready to charge. I was asking Jill if she had him in the scope. She did but the wind was blowing 30 mph, which is incredibly difficult to hold steady in. 

"Put the crosshairs at the base of the neck..." I was trying to coach her. 

The deer moved again. Now it was broadside. 

"There. Perfect. You on him?" I whispered.

I was fully expecting Jill to tell me she couldn't do it, which would have been fine. She's never been in this situation. She's never shot at or killed anything like a deer or anything bigger than a duck. You never know fully, how you're going to feel or react at that moment. The wind was blowing. The buck was looking at us. There were a couple of deer off to the side that looked like they may have busted us as well. It all goes so fast and before I could get a sense for what she was thinking or where she was now, on the deer...Boom! The .270 rang out and the deer dropped. 

In a perfect world, that would be the end of it. We would all walk up on the deer. It would be dead. Jill would sit in the truck while I dressed it out because it is kind of gross. We would load it up and high-five our way to a breakfast diner. But that's not what happened because those perfect shots, where the deer drops and doesn't move, aren't always the reality. 

The shot was a little high. The deer dropped but tried to get back up. Jill watched as it scooted across the ground and caught its antlers in a barbed wire fence. It struggled and we quickly finished it off with a second shot in the neck. That's never a good scene for anyone--even the grizzled veteran let alone a rookie hunter. And if it doesn't bother you, there might be some question of whether or not you have what it takes to wield the kind of responsibility to kill something like a deer or an elk or anything else we choose to hunt. 

I'm incredible proud of Jill for putting the sneak on this deer and successfully taking a good, ethical shot but I also know how difficult it was for her to watch the deer struggle. I know she's proud that she has contributed to putting food on the table and for the accomplishment but I also know it wasn't easy for her and she might not ever do it again. It was her idea to get the tag and to hunt. It very well could be the first and last deer she shoots and that's ok. Would it be different if the deer hadn't struggled? Maybe. But if you're going to hunt, you have to be ok with the reality that sometimes it doesn't work out that way. It might be your first deer. It might be your tenth but eventually, you will see the, 'not-so-clean' or perfect shot and that will have an impact on you. That feeling is a good thing and hopefully it teaches us all to know our limits and to do everything we can to take good shots so we mitigate an animal's suffering. 

I share this story because I want to promote and idea of what hunting is to me. I'm not a blood thirsty predator that pumps his fists every time an animal hits the ground or the water. It's why I really appreciate some hunting shows that show that side of hunting and can't stand the bro's out there that think it's all about the kill and having to build a separate addition on the house for all the trophies. The guys and gals I hunt with celebrate with a hand shake or a hug and even a tear from time to time. Then we all participate in the process of helping each other pack out our game as Mitch Kowalski did for me when I shot my elk this year and I did for him and his wife a few days later. I actually enjoy that part of the process as much as I do pulling the trigger because I know how important that meat is  and that's when I feel the most connected to the hunting community. 

Jill decided to do something incredibly far outside of who she is because she knew that if she were successful, she would be helping out a friend--a single mother who likes venison but doesn't have a way to get it. So that's what I'm really proud of her for--not so much that she was able to pull the trigger, but that she did so, participating in this act of building community through hunting. She put someone else's needs first, knowing it was going to be difficult but knowing she would be helping out a friend. 

Jill made it into the "Ten-Pointer Club" this year, which is impressive. The more impressive thing to me however, is her participation in a bigger and more important community of people helping each other out through hunting. Maybe next year she'll put a pack frame on and haul 80 lbs. of elk shoulder out of the mountains....well, maybe 40.

Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Chris Bracket and 'Fear No Evil' Displays Their Idea of Good Hunting Ethics

Hey ya'll,

Join the discussion on this week's, The Montana Dream Cast! Here are some readings to help:

Read about Chris Bracket poaching a deer in Indiana. You can even watch the video! If you're going to have a hunting show, let's promote ethics and being good stewards of the resources. We are all faced with tough decisions from time to time when we're out in the field and sometimes, we don't make the right choice. Shooting a deer that the land-owner asked you not to is bad enough but when a bigger deer walks out right afterwards and you shoot that one too, even though you already shot your one deer allowed? Inexcusable. And then to not even go recover the first one? I personally hope every business pulls their sponsorship on your show and you find yourself behind a desk selling paper products at Dunder Mifflin. You had your dream job and you blew it.

Wisconsin is trying to do without a minimum age to hunt. Would you support this for your state? Does your state even have a minimum age requirement and do you think it works?

Would you prosecute this 14-year-old?

Listen in as Scott Hirschi and I talk about these things as well as much, much more on:
Chris Bracket and 'Fear No Evil' Displays Their Idea of Good Hunting Ethics

Keep 'em where they live...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Patience is a Virtue

Well, through all the doubt and the heavy snow, patience paid off and the freezer will be stocked. I've hiked up that same mountain about a dozen times this year including archery season and I'm  not going to lie, I thought about giving in and trying a new location. I actually did hunt out East during archery season as well as Boulder a couple times but I had to come back to the Honey Hole and even though there was absolutely no sign of an elk the last couple trips, nor were there any sign in the last few weeks since the opener of rifle season, I knew they would be back and well, the proof is in the puddin. 

Each trip, I averaged about 5 to 6 miles to get in and back to the truck. This last week with the snow made it that much tougher especially when you're not seeing any sign of anything but moose. Moose are cool but they won't fill the freezer unless you're lucky enough to draw that tag. I'm still waiting. I mentioned last week that doubt was definitely setting in and it was. It's a lot of work and you feel defeated--like you wasted another entire day when you're not seeing anything. But sometimes, you just gotta trust the process.

I walked up to a series of parks Thursday afternoon. It was the last place I had seen any sign of elk but even that was weeks ago. I was half-way up the parks when I glassed back across the drainage and got a glimpse of a cow walking through the timber. They're here! 

That elk disappeared but then I spotted another one in a saddle creating a corridor to the series of parks on the other side of the ridge. It's go-time. 

I hiked through the timber and up the ridge to the parks where I cut a set of tracks. It was hard to tell how old the tracks were but they looked pretty fresh. I followed them until I felt pretty confident I wasn't going to catch up to them and I really didn't think they were from the elk I had spotted anyway. I was running out of light so I turned back, working my way into the park adjacent the ridge where I had spotted the elk. When I got there, It looked like a heard of cattle had been grazing in that park. 

I skirted my way along the edge of the timber, not seeing anything but beds and tracks and tons of droppings. A week ago, this park was a virtual dessert only the sand dunes were snow drifts. There hadn't been anything except the occasional deer and other hunters to break the smooth surface of snow. Now, it looked like a heard of about 50 to 75 elk were living up there, destroying the clean snow-cap over the grass and the shrubs and rocks. 

Did I miss them? Is that possible? Did someone else get there first? Did the wolves spook them out? On my way in on the trail I saw two things that made me think this; wolf tracks and blood in the snow along the trail. I kept telling myself that the wolf being there meant they were there for a reason and the blood; well, maybe someone did shoot one but I did see a couple going through the timber so I knew they were still there. 

I walked the edge of the park and came up on a pile of droppings that were still on top of the snow. I know this is going to sound gross to those of you that don't hunt elk but I took my glove off and picked up one of the droppings and squeezed it to see how fresh it was. It wasn't frozen. It wasn't even cold. It was really fresh. 

Before I could get my glove back on, I caught something out of the corner of my eye running across the park. I focused on it as it crossed behind a finger of trees protruding out into the park and sure enough, elk. Not only one but several but they were on the move. 

"Fuck!" I thought. "They winded me and they're gone."

I have a buddy Mitch, who always tells clients this in the boat; "Panic kills armies."

It's true and when you're fishing or hunting, panic kills opportunities. Scott Hirschi and I talked about this on the last podcast, Kill All The Wolves! And anything else that keeps me from shooting an elk... You have to slow things down or you will choke. As these elk were cruising across the park, I thought about taking a running shot but at 150 yards, that didn't seem like the smart thing to do. I remembered I had my cow call around my neck and I gave a quick, "mee-eww." They stopped. 

I put the gun on my shooting sticks but the elk had stopped behind that finger of trees. I could see one of the elk through the trees and thought about pulling the trigger but then stopped myself. One little branch would deflect the bullet and they would be gone. The fact they had stopped with the cow-call meant they weren't totally freaked out so I waited for a second and they took off again. They cleared the trees and were out in the open and as I got one of them in the cross-hairs, again I thought about shooting on the run. Instead, I hit the cow-call again and again, they all stopped, which gave me just enough time to put the cross-hairs on the lead cow and squeeze. 

The tell-tail sign of a good hit is when the report of the bullet hitting something solid comes back at you a second after the initial shot. The other sign of a solid hit is when the elk actually drops. Both of these things happened and as I stood up, it only took a couple more seconds for me to start planning the next 12 or 14 hours... This elk was about a mile and a half from the truck. I was by myself. I was going to need help. 

Some of you reading this might think, "What's the big deal? It's only a cow, right?"

Yeah, you're right. It's not a trophy by any means. I kind of equate this with deer hunting in the Midwest. For most people, they put in for doe tags and when they get one, they think, "Sweet! That just upped my chances of putting venison in the freeze by like 5 times," but it's still no guarantee. I would say the success rate of shooting elk out here is much like that of shooting a deer in the Midwest. For most, even a doe is an accomplishment. 

Now I've been pretty damn successful for the past decade--mostly during archery-season. When I haven't done it with a bow, I feel my chances with a rifle are greatly diminished. There are more people in the mountains. The elk get pushed around. They are really spooky so I just think it's harder--even with a cow tag so I'm stoked. I've got meat in the freezer!

I know. Those of you that know me, know we are not struggling to get by but we do eat a lot of elk and venison and other wild game species. We could buy beef and honestly, when you look at how much it costs to drive up into the mountains, to buy shells and food and everything else when taking a hunting trip, we're not coming that much out ahead by harvesting elk. But, it's meat that is well worth the effort as it's not jacked up with hormones and it's lean and it tastes excellent. If given a choice, I'd eat elk. 

So there you have it. Even with all the doubt and the second guessing, this season has been a success. Now, Jill is going to get her chance again, to shoot her first deer. It's gonna happen.

Keep 'em where they live...