There is nothing like spending time up in this part of Montana in the fall...the sprawling open country, the small ranching towns, and the abundance of game seem reminiscent of a past era. The place is a hunter's paradise. What people do in Havre the other eight months of the year, however, when you can't shoot stuff, is a mystery to me.
Northeastern Montana had some cold, wet weather this past spring/early summer, and supposedly bird numbers are down because of those storms. Brett as well as some other friends have found tougher than usual hunting in the area so far this season, and FWP reports say upland birds of all species are below average this year in that part of the state. Nonetheless, this is flippin' birdy country, and we found roosters in all the spots we hunted over the weekend...maybe not as many as last year, but they were there, and they were in the right places. Rudy was just as wily as ever, and we probably missed or didn't have shots on more birds than we killed. Pretty par for the course for me...
Brett is a high school biology teacher in town, and he benefits from connections with students' parents and faculty who are landowners in the area. Nothing like private access. He is also a passionate bird hunter, and the guy does his homework (let's just say that every flushed bird is entered in his GPS). We were able to hunt a variety of public and private land over the course of two and a half days, and saw plenty of pheasants, Huns, antelope, whitetails, and mule deer. Even ran in to a rattlesnake one morning that caused us to change our minds regarding a hunt in a particular creek bottom. Usually they would be in their dens by this time of year, but it's been so warm recently that it's obviously still good advice to mind your step.
Speaking of speed goats, after pheasant hunting Saturday morning, we put the sneak on a group of antelope that had several big bucks milling around in it. I didn't have an antelope tag for that unit (they sold out in a matter of hours this summer), but Brett did. We belly-crawled up to the crest of a rise where Brett was able to make a 300 yard shot with his 7mm Mag., dropping this 15 1/2 x 16 1/2 buck in his tracks. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting him cleaned up and considering which part of him to eat first.
Needless to say, breakfast Sunday morning was pan-friend antelope tenderloin. We did a cast-and-blast on a local river that I've been asked to withhold the name of, and had good pheasant hunting...and poor to very poor fishing. Good thing we're keeping it a secret! A handful of trout were farmed on dry flies (mostly on my part, of course), and we saw some massive brown trout push out of a couple of shallow tail-outs. 'Tis the season for those big boys to be fired-up and aggressive, but the quality of the streamer fishing that day didn't show it. It was still a great day: I'll always sign up for new water with good friends.
With a long drive home ahead of me Sunday night, we got off the water reasonably early and hit the road. Another weekend well-spent in good company and great country. I look forward to making it up that direction again in November for some deer hunting and so I can take another crack at some of the roosters I missed.
Photographs by Brett Shelagowski