Hunters make preparations for hunting season

Friday, August 9, 2019
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Some hunters who ‘won the lottery’ by drawing a special bighorn sheep tag have already logged many hours scouting and placing their huts.

“Well, Alan, are you getting ready for hunting season?” The question sort of caught me by surprise. I mean, the temperature was close to 100 degrees, it was only the first week of August, and I was focused on getting the boat and camper ready so that I could head to Fort Peck to try to catch some more of those big walleyes, pike, and smallmouth bass.

But then, when I thought about it a bit more, I realized that hunting seasons were, indeed, sneaking up on us. In fact, the first 2019 fall big game hunting seasons open August 15, when archery antelope hunters head afield and elk hunters stalk elk on private lands in some districts.

I have friends who “won the lottery” by drawing one of those limited and highly coveted licenses for bighorn sheep, moose, or mountain goats. Some of these hunters have already logged many long hours scouting their hunting areas and planning their hunts. For many hunters, this type of hunt represents a once in a lifetime outdoor adventure, and the serious hunter knows how to make the most of this very special opportunity.

For upland bird hunters, the smothering heat discourages those exercise hikes we know we should be making. But we also know the magic time is coming. The tang of autumn may not be in the air yet, but it will be. Soon. Our bird dogs know it, too. They watch us carefully, waiting for the day we put hunting vest and shotgun in the vehicle and tell them to “kennel up.”

It helps, maybe, to remember back several years, when we hunted blue grouse in a wet snowstorm in the mountains on September 1st, the opening day of grouse season. If it happened then, it could happen again. And how many years have we seen the first big cold front of autumn come roaring through eastern Montana just a day or two before the dove season opens, causing a mass exodus of every dove in the country heading south for the winter.

Many archery hunters have been practicing with their bows for weeks, and fine-tuning their equipment so they are ready when the deer/elk season opens in early September. Those who use trail cameras to scout and track game movements in their hunting areas have already downloaded hundreds of images, and I’ll bet some have even already named the bucks or bulls they hope to harvest. Many have already placed their tree stands and trimmed brush and tree branches to clear their shooting lanes.

I don’t know. For me, this time of year presents a bit of a dilemma. Maybe it does for you, too. I mean, I am always eager for hunting seasons to arrive. But it seems almost too early for summer to be coming to a close. There are still berries to pick, and more camping trips to be made. I still haven’t fly-fished for smallmouth bass in the Tongue River this year, or caught a stringer of catfish from the Powder. My big northern pike is still out there, somewhere, just waiting to break my line again this year.

On the one hand, we Montana hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts are fortunate to have so many outdoor opportunities available. Montana has some of the most liberal and longest hunting and fishing seasons in the nation, and the state is blessed with abundant and widely-distributed populations of game birds, animals, and fish.

On the other hand, for some of us, it is sometimes simply too tough to choose. Which is why, come fall, you will find some of us travelling in vehicles crammed with all sorts of gear, including a shotgun and shells for upland birds and waterfowl, a rifle for big game, maybe a bow and arrows, at least one fishing rod but more likely more, a tacklebox stuffed with lures and flies, and of course, the dog. Always the dog.

It’s called Montana time, right? Ain’t it great?

( Alan Charles lives and writes in the Pine Hills.)