Recreation season turns toward fall activities

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Like it or not, fall is here! Two weeks ago, the weekend before Labor Day weekend, we were at our cabin with our granddaughters. The lake water had cooled a little, but with afternoon temperatures in the 80s, it still felt like summer. We did a lot of swimming and other water sports. There were lots of other folks on the lake enjoying a nice late-summer weekend.

Now fast forward to this past Labor Day weekend. Partly cloudy, some rain and day temperatures in only the 60s or low 70s. Not exactly beach weather. Our lake was nearly empty of recreationists, except for a couple of fishermen. This past weekend was definitely an early fall weekend.

So my wife and I did fall activities such as grouse hunting, firewood cutting, storing the kayaks for the winter and other winter preparation activities.

Our grouse hunting had mixed results.

On Saturday we hunted for several hours and bagged no birds. We only saw one ruffed grouse and it flew before we could even think about shooting. Monday we went grouse hunting again in the same area. That day ended with five grouse. We also passed on shooting a couple of small grouse.

Most of the grouse we saw and bagged were higher-elevation blue grouse or dusky grouse as they are officially named. Blue grouse are much larger than their close cousins the ruffed grouse and Franklin grouse.

The first blue grouse we bagged was a nice-sized bird. My wife was gracious enough to let me take the first shot. Then we got into a covey of blues. After killing a couple, we noticed how small they were. Obviously they were young birds of the year. Normally by this time of the year, young birds are nearly as large as their adult parents. But these young birds were scarcely larger then a dove-size bird. All we could figure is they were a second or late hatch. I donít know if these small immature little guys would make through a harsh Montana winter.

One of the highlights of our grouse hunting was the numerous deer we saw. When we turned off of U.S. 2 headed for our favorite grouse hunting area, we had four sightings of deer with a total of 20 deer in the first two miles of driving. Only one was small buck. The rest were does and fawns.

We also saw other deer over the weekend, so it looks like a great year for deer hunting. With either-sex hunting of whitetails for the first week of the general deer season, lots of deer will probably be harvested. The scarcity of bucks is probably the result of bucks-only hunting for the last few years.

The highlight of wildlife watching over the weekend was spotting two moose ó a cow and calf ó feeding near Middle Thompson Lake.

Another fun outdoor activity over the weekend was firewood cutting. For some odd reason, I love firewood cutting. While grouse hunting, I spotted a firewood cutterís dream. It was a nice 12-inch-diameter dead western larch tree, located above the road. As woodcutters know, larch is our best firewood species. An added bonus is that it splits easily.

When I had my chain saw at the base of this tree, I noticed it was leaning slightly up hill, so I had to saw it carefully so it would fall downhill to the road and truck. Finally, with only a small hinge of wood holding the tree upright, I was able to push on it and was pleased to see it falling downhill.

Then, halfway to the ground, it stopped falling. It was hung up in the crotch of a large lodgepole pine tree across the road. Instead of having a premium tree on the ground, I had just created a wood bridge for squirrels wanting to cross the road. But after some long-butting, a logging chain and converting my Ford pickup to a logging tractor, we had the tree on the ground.

Within an hour, the tree was cut into stove-length chunks and in my truck. My wife was the chief loader and stacker. I worked up a good sweat getting that firewood. I worked up a second sweat when I got the firewood back to the cabin and began splitting it. But it really feels good to work hard and stockpile some good firewood for the coming winter.

In the next few days, my wife and I will head to Eastern Montana for some sharptail grouse hunting. I will also hunt for a whitetail doe with my bow. Then itís off to do some serious hunting for rutting bull elk later in September. Montana offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation in the fall. I hope you are enjoying those opportunities as much as I do. Have fun and be safe.

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