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FALL 2012


16 30 36

FINDING KISHENEHN A trail in Glacier’s forgotten corner leads to the park’s northernmost ranger station—and a lost era


FORCE OF NATURE The gospel of Jim Harrison


Hitting the target gets a whole lot harder when it’s 10 football fields away

Cover photo by Tony Bynum


Grub 44


Stew it up


8 Head Trip 46

Head Lines 11 Falling gracefully Freeriders hope to find a home The fall of the Bitterroot’s first highline

Take it to the limit

Head Out 52 Schedule your hunting season and other adventures

Head Light 22

Head Gear 55

Can you see me now?

Canvas cabins

Head Shots 24

The Crux 63

Our readers’ best

Containment theory

Wild Things 42 Cat power

317 S. Orange St.• Missoula, MT 59801 406-543-6609 • Fax 406-543-4367

Please recycle this magazine



Skylar Browning Lynne Foland Chad Harder Carolyn Bartlett Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis Chris Melton Tara Shisler

Alex Sakariassen, Nick Davis, Erika Fredrickson, Matthew Frank, Chad Harder, Courtney Blazon, Ari LeVaux,

Montana Headwall (ISSN 2151-1799) is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2012 by Independent Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or in part is forbidden except by permission of Independent Publishing, Inc. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. And yeah, we’re having fun.


Brad Tyer Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Tami Johnson, Steven Kirst, Alecia Goff, Sasha Perrin Lorie Rustvold Matt Gibson

Chad Harder

t took him four tries, but Nick Davis finally hit pay dirt, striking the motherlode on a Montana Headwall assignment. Over the past four years, we’ve conscripted Davis to land a state record fish, dared him to conquer the logistics of a cast-and-blast extravaganza, and obliged him to fly fish in the middle of winter—all with the uncompromising expectation that he’d come back with a gem of a story for our readers. Or else. Being an exceptionally fine writer and an all-around good sport, Davis obliged. But everywhere he went for us, hard times followed him. The fish didn’t bite. The ducks banked safely out of range. Woebegone barmaids stumbled over the pronunciation of “Corona.” Davis has endured torment of Homeric proportions for us, yet made all of it sound like fun, if not downright heroic. But this time, on assignment for “Take it to the limit,” Davis stumbled into riches, lucking into a perfect day of upland bird hunting on extraordinary ground with amiable partners and fine dogs. He knows it will be hard to top that outing. Davis isn’t the only Headwall writer who’s been having a good time. Chris Dombrowski drinks in the genius of Jim Harrison in “Force of nature.” Erika Fredrickson shoots the breeze with Missoula’s low-key cabal of world-class marksmen in “Long shots.” And in “Finding Kishenehn,” Aaron Teasdale admires the forest primeval from a remote cabin tucked into the farthest corner of Glacier National Park. If you’re reading this magazine, you already know: Montana offers an abundance of spectacular outdoor adventures, more than enough to sate even the most committed sportsman. After finishing our fall issue, we hope you’ll be eager to have more. Enjoy.



Matt Gibson Editor-in-Chief

Chad Harder


Aaron Teasdale Aaron can usually be found roaming the planet’s wild and endangered corners with pen and camera in hand. His wife and two sons come along whenever the shackles of civilization (school, work, etc.) allow it. Though he has called Missoula’s Northside home for 13 years, his heart resides in the North Fork of the Flathead Valley, where his family has a cabin near Polebridge. You can see more of his work in Sierra, National Geographic Adventure, Mountain and Adventure Cyclist.

Nick Davis

Nick lives in Missoula with a gorgeous wife, a fantastic son, a lumpy old dog, and a cat that urinates on his stuff. In terms of regular employment he is currently in a “transition period.” He fervently hopes this period will last through hunting season.

Erika Fredrickson Erika is a graduate of the University of Montana’s creative writing program and received her master’s in environmental studies in 2009. She’s currently the arts editor at the Missoula Independent and has been published in Montanan, Vision, The Sonoma Review and Camas. When not hiking in the woods, she's working on local food issues. Though she hasn't won any world records for 1,000-yard shooting (yet), she's still hoping to fill her antelope tag this fall.

Courtney Blazon Courtney is a graduate of Parsons School of Design now working as an artist in Missoula. Her art has been featured at local and regional galleries, at the Missoula Art Museum, on and Google’s, and in New American Paintings and Studio Visit Magazine. She’s had solo shows at Pony Club Gallery in Portland, Victrola Coffee and Art in Seattle, Dana Gallery and the University of Montana UC Gallery. She received a Montana Arts Council 2011 Artist Innovation Award.




4IPQBUXXXCPCXBSETDPN Montana Headwall Page 10 Fall 2012


Falling with style per hour. In his wingsuit, Huschle glides at half that speed. “You open up your arms and you pretty much lean the way you want to go,” says Huschle, now 34 and living in Bozeman. “You’ve got time to look around. If you jump with other peo-

Japan’s Shin Ito set the world record for fastest speed reached in a wingsuit, hitting 226 mph in May 2011. ple, you can fly next to each other. You can fly in formation like planes. You look at a bird flying, and that’s what it feels like.” Over the past seven years, Huschle’s done some amazing wingsuit jumps. He’s flown extensively in Europe, including a launch off The Eiger, a 13,025-foot mountain in

Continued on next page

Ren Huschle

Now Huschle flies. He still jumps out of planes, and off of cliffs and bridges, but when he does he opens the wings of a special suit with flaps of fabric under each arm and between his legs that catch the air, slow his descent and make him look something like a flying squirrel. Your average skydiver falls at around 120 miles

Switzerland’s Bernese Alps. He’s jumped in Idaho and California. Most notably, however, he’s one of only two wingsuit jumpers to have flown in Montana. He’s secretive about the locations—one jump was in “southwest Montana” and another in “western Montana” is all he offers—but it’s clear he sees his home state as a new frontier. “It’s unexplored territory,” Huschle says. Huschle believes he’s one of only a few in Montana who have even tried the sport; Huschle knows of some active BASE jumpers, but none who have tried wingsuits yet. That leaves him mostly on his own when scouting new cliffs. It’s a tricky process because Montana’s mountains don’t have as much relief as, say, the Alps. But the


Ren Huschle used to fall. He started skydiving near Kalispell when he was 22. Three years later, after moving to California, he started BASE jumping off cliffs. In both cases he just tumbled through the air, waiting to deploy his parachute. He fell.

technology has improved enough in the last few years to put Montana peaks in play. He says flying is “safer, easier” than it was even five years ago. It’s still far from a beginner’s sport. Wingsuit flights require intense training and evaluation with a coach, and that only happens after a recommended minimum of 200 traditional skydives. Huschle says one mistake, one distraction, one extra second of flight and even his parachute may become useless. He’s made mistakes, but never a fatal one. “If you’re not paying attention, you’re still falling out of the sky,” Huschle says. The words catch in his throat for a moment. He’s been liberal with the word “flying” up to now, but the mention of falling seems to make him reflect. “We’re not flying yet,” he confesses. “We glide. Poorly.” Alex Sakariassen

Ren Huschle


Only at 100 Miles to Glory A leisurely afternoon ride this is not. John Lehrman writes about one mountain biker's epic pedal adventure, spanning approximately 105 miles and climbing about 16,000 feet—all in 18 hours.

Buggy in the Bitterroots Headwall photo editor Chad Harder summits Saint Joseph Peak and finds thousands—literally thousands—of ladybugs waiting for him.

Sky Full of Pheasants During an unforgettable hunt detailed in this issue, Nick Davis quickly shot his limit of upland birds. Chad Harder, however, didn’t have to stop shooting. The bullets and feathers fly in his online slideshow. PLUS: • Read Trip Reports—or add your own • Search an extensive database of regional destinations and trails • Explore Montana Headwall’s full issue archive


Freeriders hope to find a home On a recent summer day, a Missoula mountain biker cruised through a stand of pine toward a rickety wooden ramp. Decked out in a full-face helmet, gloves and kneepads, he had little protection from what threatened to be a bone-crunching fall. He hit the ramp, rocketed 20 feet above an abandoned Forest Service road, and disappeared back into the brush. This is freeriding, a version of mountain biking gaining in popularity for its emphasis on tricks, personal style, and technical trail riding. The catch? It doesn’t have a home yet, at least not a legal one.

Chad Harder

A decade ago, Missoula’s freeride community was largely insular, just scattered groups of like-minded, passionate bikers, says longtime freerider Cris Winner. They rode wherever they could, including abandoned fields, backyards, and remote stretches of forest. With limited opportunities, some riders took to Forest Service land to illegally create new trail features, contributing to the sport’s less-than-positive public image. Winner is working to change that reputation, and he says a lot has already been done. The freeride community has grown “five-fold” since he started riding 10 years ago, and freeriders have developed legal parks and trail networks across the country. “You show up at trailheads, there’s other freeriders there,” says Winner, specifically noting work done in Whitefish and Bozeman. “You see pictures of people riding. It’s all over the place now.”

Man-made freeriding features include teeter-totters, drop-offs, raised ramps, log rides, and high, narrow bridges. Missoula, however, remains behind the curve. Winner runs a freeride camp for area youth, but compares the sport’s growing pains to those once experienced by snowboarding and skateboarding. Freeriding isn’t widely accepted, so his camp kids turn to the one place they can legally ride: private property. Others continue to ride illegally on Forest Service land. “It’s really hard because none of us are old enough to drive,” says Peter Rice, 14, a member of Winner’s Montana Headwall Page 13 Fall 2012


advanced class. “We can’t go to all these people’s houses because they live out of town.” Missoula bikers have attempted to legalize areas in the past, but the Forest Service has been less than receptive, citing concerns for public safety. Winner believes those concerns are being addressed. Last summer, a group began raising funds for an in-town bike park. The Tanner Olson Memorial BMX Park—named in memory of local freerider Tanner Olson, who died in a car crash in spring 2011—would offer freeriders of all ages an easily accessible, safe and legal venue. Missoula Parks & Recreation is aware of the park proposal, and initial discussions about potential locations are already underway. “You could build a really fun bike park in a week,” Winner says, “if you had the right tools and the right people.” He says at this point, Missoula is on the right track. Alex Sakariassen

Chad Harder


How to keep your kill from falling off your car 1 Get yourself some rope.

3 Tie off at end

2 Employ the trucker’s hitch. If you’re not using a trucker’s hitch, you’re doing it wrong.



Make a slippery half-hitch in middle of rope.


Pull tight

Make a turn around a bar, cleat, etc. Illustration by Kou Moua

Montana Headwall Page 14 Fall 2012


Finish with one or two half hitches (overhand knots).

If all else fails, resort to extreme measures.


The fall of the Bitterroot’s first highline

David Hobbs

David Hobbs called it “The Plank.” He was referring to the roughly 80-foot-long, inch-wide length of webbing he strung across the top of the North Rim of Mill Creek Canyon last summer, the first highline in the Bitterroot. It took Hobbs months to plan it, and then three days of trying over two weekends before he successfully walked it. But the high didn’t last long. Hobbs, 23, a University of Montana nursing student and veteran of the U.S. Telemark World Cup Team, discovered in late May that someone destroyed the five bolts comprising one of the highline anchors. “They were all pounded flat, like someone used a big hammer,” he says. Hobbs guesses the hammer-wielder is a frequenter of the area who doesn’t approve of Mill Creek’s transformation into a playground for adventure-seeking highliners and rock jocks. Mill Creek, about an hour south of Missoula, is quickly becoming a popular rockclimbing destination, largely because its many sport-climbing opportunities are well suited to beginners and intermediates, providing a point of entry to the sport that the greater Missoula area has largely lacked. Climbing pals Ken Turley, Dane Scott and Michael Moore, among others, began bolting the routes back in 2009; now there are 44, and counting. “Mill Creek has surpassed our expectations in terms of how popular it’s become, and we’re delighted,” says Turley. He wrote last summer in the Mill Creek Report ( that Hobbs’ highline upped “the adventure quotient…several notches.” The vandalism has the Mill Creek climbing community ticked—and “ticked” is the appropriate word, since ticks pervade the place (hence route names such as “Tick Magnet” and “Witness the Tickness”). The climbers defend their right to recreate on public land and Turley notes there’s legal precedent for prosecuting bolt choppers, referencing a 2007 Massachusetts case. Hobbs says he’s reluctant to re-bolt the highline anchor and risk more vandalism, but he’s otherwise unfazed. “There are plenty of other cliffs out there to highline between,” he says. “We just have to find them.” Matthew Frank

Montana Headwall Page 15 Fall 2012


ovember’s wan light drained from the sky as I walked alone into a forgotten corner of Glacier National Park. As night grew from the shadows, noises in the forest grew louder. My head jerked at the sound of a branch brushing my pants. A foot of fresh snow obscured the tracks of an oversized carnivore on the trail that led me into dark timber. Everywhere was blackness, the world reduced to my headlamp’s bobbing orb of light. It seemed inevitable it would suddenly be filled by some variety of toothy creature. I checked the pepper spray canister in my pack’s side pocket. Then I remembered the propellant in pepper spray doesn't work in temperatures below freezing. It was 20 degrees. "Well, this is exciting," I thought to myself. I’d gotten a late start but was determined to reach the old Kishenehn ranger cabin where my friend Benjamin Polley was waiting. Though I’d navigated the faint trail many times, the deepening snow made route-finding a challenge. By the time I reached Kishenehn Creek its icy flow was being swallowed by the

night and thickly falling snowflakes clouded my headlamp beam. I took a moment to steel myself and then forded. But in the chaos of snow and darkness, I picked the wrong spot and couldn’t find the trail on the other side. This was the point at which I became quasi-lost. Not lost-lost, mind you—I knew where I was, more or less. But I had no trail and the darkness was closing in around me. As I bushwhacked through the black unknown an owl took flight from the night and took a couple of my heartbeats with it. I was reminded of the writer who said fear is an essential part of the wilderness experience. This is why I come here to this unruly, forgotten forest in the far northwest corner of Glacier. To be wild again, the way we used to be. The night before, as I lay in bed in the civilized confines of Missoula, I thought about how I would be completely off the human grid on this hike—no phone, no people, no contact with the modern world—and how rare that’s become. I like that feeling. With no safety net between myself and the wild, everything seems more alive.


he first time I attempted this trail was over a decade ago, after discovering it on a yellowing map that showed it leading to a mysterious ranger station. Current park maps show no trails or ranger stations here, and it felt like I was the first person in years to follow the indistinct path. Eventually I reached that same Kishenehn Creek crossing where the trail simply disappeared. At the time, I figured that was it—the area had been abandoned to wilderness. Five years ago I learned this was only partly true. The area had indeed returned to wilderness, if it had ever been anything else, but the Kishenehn Ranger Station was still there, hidden in thick timber near the North Fork of the Flathead River. More importantly, my friend Ben, a longtime park employee, had been invited to man it during hunting season. His job was to patrol for poachers, the original reason this outpost is here at all. The first cabin was built at Kishenehn in 1913, three years after Glacier's creation, as the northernmost link in a chain of log-cabin ranger stations encircling the park. A wilderness park where nature had primacy was a new concept, and park managers wanted to shield it from neighboring homesteaders who bristled at the notion of a place where they couldn’t hunt, trap, graze and log. To protect it, the Kishenehn ranger was tasked with patrolling the area’s scattering of trails. Local residents eventually accepted the park, but tourists never arrived at Kishenehn due to its inaccessible location, lack of amenities and mountainobscuring forest, and the rangers were removed. Except for rare visits by rangers or wildlife researchers, the cabin, woodshed, and log barn sat unused for decades, vestiges of a lost era. But the modern-day threat of poachers lives on, and Ben now hikes here every fall. For each of the last five years I’ve come to visit, always on the cusp of winter when the air is bracing and larch needles turn to gold. I don’t come for the views, I come to recalibrate and feel the rhythms of the wilderness. I’m a sucker for knockyou-upside-the-head grandeur as much as the next guy, but over the years I’ve learned to prefer slightly less spectacular places with wilder character, where the animals don’t come for handouts, they come for prey. That’s Kishenehn.


n the farthest reaches of the North Fork Valley, 13 miles of ragged dirt road north of Polebridge, itself some 30 miles of rough road north of Columbia Falls,

there is an unmarked trailhead. Beyond this entry point lies a land of primitive trails, towering forests and wildlife beyond counting. A literal blank spot on the map, here in a corner of one of America’s showpiece national parks is a place virtually nobody goes. When Ben and I are hiking in together, we invariably go quiet after the first mile or so as the Kishenehn acclimation begins. The call of ravens and the jackhammer of pileated woodpeckers replace our conversation. We share a love of tracking wild animals and there are always tracks upon tracks of

another person here. We always come with good boots, good books, and good wine. Sometimes we take a day in the cabin to drink tea and read, and Ben, who vows to someday write a book about this place, pens epic paeans in the station’s logbook, which is otherwise filled with taciturn ranger entries. But most often, like those early patrolling rangers, our days revolve around movement. A hike we took one cold, cloudy November day perfectly illustrates the Kishenehn experience.

overhead in jumbled, bicycle-horn symphonies. Later we saw the tracks of a wolf that had come to the meadow’s edge, seen or heard or smelled us, and turned away. On our way back at the end of the day, we split up for the last two miles and I explored off-trail in the encroaching shadows. Grizzly tracks appeared just before I reached the cabin. Had it gone before Ben or after him? Following the tracks by headlamp led me directly to the cabin. Ben was standing on the porch and announced, “This griz came right up to

Current park maps show no trails or ranger stations here, and it felt like I was the first person in years to follow the indistinct path. elk, moose, wolf, lion, grizzly. Then maybe a tuft of hair. Then a hoof, the toes of a deer, lying on the ground like a discarded toy. Inevitably, the carcass parade begins. We gather around the tracks, prod and smell the scat, excitedly studying the kill sites like young boys at Christmas. The trail here is more like a game trail than the park’s well-pounded expressways, and after five miles it disappears in the cobble along Kishenehn Creek. My first trip in, Ben showed me where to pick up the faint trail to the ranger cabin on the far side. Fording the creek—never deep, always cold—is like crossing a border into the wild heart of Kishenehn. The trees are bigger, the beaver ponds never-ending, and the trail paved with lion and wolf scat. Besides Ben and our friends, I’ve never seen

The howling of wolves woke us at sunrise. In less than an hour we were stepping out of the cabin’s grizzly-proof, metal-grate front door with a day’s provisions in our packs. Not more than 200 yards from the cabin were lion tracks, fresh on the morning’s dusting of snow (there’s nothing better here than a fresh dusting of snow). Ben and I high-fived. A lion—a lion!—had just been here. As we followed its tracks down the trail, wolves howled in the distance. We followed the old Kootenai Indian trail up Kishenehn Creek through a towering forest of old-growth larch and fir and aspen tattooed by bear claws. At the antler- and skull-littered meadows near the Canadian border, we sat and ate in silence. But Kishenehn sang as chickadees filled the air with good cheer and wedges of geese flew

Montana Headwall Page 20 Fall 2012

the cabin, with smoke coming out of the chimney, smelled our pee, and then flipped over the pack rat we threw out and kept going up the river trail—where we’re going tomorrow.” The lesson here is that while the big carnivores won’t cavalcade in front of you in Kishenehn’s old forest like they might in, say, Yellowstone, there’s no question they’re here. The other lesson is that if you trap a pack rat and toss its carcass in front of the cabin to see what will come eat it, you don’t have to worry about it being a grizzly bear.


ometimes the wildlife encounters here are less oblique. Consider the time we were walking along the border swath, that 40-foot-wide treeless line in the sand our country maintains up and

down mountainsides for reasons only bureaucrats can understand. Ben was walking a short distance ahead of me as I snapped pictures. Then the ravens appeared, circling loudly over Sage Creek. We immediately squatted down and watched. We suspected a kill site, but we couldn’t see down into the creek bottom. As I stalked my way toward the bank behind Ben, he came speed-walking back to me furiously waving his hands. I’d never seen him so rattled. Quietly but with a fierce urgency he said, “Go, go, go! There’s a huge black grizzly bear on an elk carcass in the creek bottom.” He was terrified in a way only someone who has just seen a murderous grizzly at close range can be. It hadn’t seen him, he said, but it was swinging its snout from side to side trying to sniff out the intruder it knew was there. We had to leave, he said, now. Some people say the value of large predators is that they teach us humility. At this moment Ben was a spouting fountain of humility. Clearly this was more of a wilderness experience than he was looking for. I, on other hand, desperately wanted to see this bear. How many opportunities do you get in a life to see a huge black grizzly bear standing on an elk carcass? All I had to do was creep to the edge of the bank, look down 30 feet, and boom: bear sighting of a lifetime. The wildest of the wild was within my grasp. But what if I reached the bank and the bruin was right there, climbing up after our scent? I have kids. I didn’t want to die here in this stupid swath. So after a few moments of contemplation, I reluctantly turned around and we trudged the eight miles through a foot of snow back to the cabin.


hile every day in the teeming lands around Kishenehn carries the unpredictable, kinetic hum of a selfwilled landscape, for every dramatic encounter there are five days filled with the kind of dynamic calm that only deep wilderness provides. Often we simply tromp to the nearby beaver kingdom, where the impossibly industrious rodents have dammed the spring that is also our water source. Their concentric dams create a terraced series of pools reminiscent of Asian rice paddies. They’ve also engineered a network of deeply worn, fourfoot-wide channels through the surrounding spruce forest. Continued on page 58

Can you see me now? HEAD LIGHT

Focusing on how to improve your smartphone’s camera


by Chad Harder

Phone users now upload more pictures to the image-sharing site Flickr than users of any other camera—more than Canon, Nikon, anything. The iPhone camera, like those in other smartphone brands, has improved exponentially in recent models, and in many instances even beats the performance of dedicated point-and-shoots. Self-contained adventurers find the five-ounce phone-camera a no-brainer alternative to lugging around yet another piece of equipment. The key to the iPhone’s popularity on Flickr is, of course, convenience. Wherever the phone goes, so goes a decent camera. It’s why more and more people rely on the saying that the best camera is the one that’s with you. But savvy shooters know that simplicity and efficiency don’t always get the best image. Smartphone cameras

remain limited—at least without some help. Consider the lack of lens options. While nearly every modern dedicated camera comes equipped with a zoom, lenses in iPhones and Android cameras are “fixed focal length.” That means they can’t stretch wide for landscapes, nor can they reach into the distance like a telephoto. This is finally changing as aftermarket lenses become available for smartphone shooters. These clipons come in varying qualities and price ranges, but we prefer the versatile Olloclip. Weighing less than a car key and costing $70, this unit is no telephoto, but it does expand your versatility. We found it to produce reasonably sharp images with its wide, fisheye and macro configurations. The current crop of clip-on telephoto options, however, leave a lot to be desired, primarily because attaching fat tele glass onto a razor-

thin smartphone has proven nearly impossible. This may change soon; a June 14 Apple patent application implies the company is developing a next-generation lens system with supplementary lenses and filters, optical zoom, and image stabilization. For now, though, none of the clip-on telephoto lenses on the market are worth a damn. Regardless of brand, most aftermarket smartphone lenses are inexpensive, simple to use and, to the typical viewer looking at a screen, capable of producing well-exposed and sharp-enough results. Eagleeyed shooters may remain frustrated, but perhaps it’d be helpful to point out they just took pictures with a cheap accessory lens clipped to a phone. The technology is far from perfect, but it is getting better. So as long as the best camera is the one that’s with you, you should maximize its capabilities.

We know you’re out there, having epics and snapping photos. Instead of cursing them with an anonymous death in hard-drive purgatory, go for the glory and send your best images to us at Include the location, your name, the names of all people shown and any information you think is useful. We’ll take it from there.

Chad Harder

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1705 Bow St.wMissoula, MT 59801


Pete Siudara

Wispy clouds fill the sky along the Rocky Mountain Front on the Blackfeet Reservation near Browning.

A mule deer buck surveys his domain from a hillside above Missoula. Paul Queneau

HEAD SHOTS The sun silhouettes bowhunter Carson Rauthe in his treestand while waiting for elk above a favorite game trail. Carson Rauthe

275 W. Main St • 728-0343

COME PLAY IN THE HIGH COUNTRY & STAY CLOSE TO THE ACTION • Only 12 miles from Lolo Pass & 10 miles from Jerry Johnson Hot Springs! • Located just 55 miles SW of Missoula on Hwy 12. • 20 cabins/rooms available for rent. • Lodge open daily for breakfast, lunch & dinner. • Plenty of parking year-round for trailers, campers, snowmobiles, and large groups.

Montana Headwall Page 29 Fall 2012


am sitting at the Hitching Post in Melrose drinking vodka with Jim who steals, between sips, a scant glance at his beloved barmaid Nicole’s rear, puffs from his American Spirit, and says: “Do you want to know how you can believe in God?” Smoke purls thickly from his cigarette, and in the window-parried shaft of evening light his face looks quite conjured with its blind eye wandering opposite his working eye, one of them—I’m not sure which—glancing often at some bird darting just beyond my mortal means of perception. “Absolutely,” I say. “I totally want to know.” Around us at the bar, ranchers and fishing guides lean in to order beers or fries or shots from Nicole, whose brown hair fairly gleams against a white tank top as she leans down to reach for bottles, revealing ample cleavage, that space on a woman’s body, essentially nothing, that so entrances the male heterosexual. “It’s a vacancy,” Jim says, limpidly braiding our theological conversation with the sexual, “the absence of something that makes men incorrigible. A nada.” With his singular own, Jim catches Nicole’s dark eyes, and asks to buy a drink (Knee-cole, he pronounces her name) for his friend Craig, who just arrived at the door in his wheelchair. Crippled from the waist


down last winter in a car accident, Craig is Nicole’s ex-boyfriend and would likely receive a free drink anyway, but Nicole obliges, laces ice, vodka, a splash of soda into a short glass, and then, as if by instinct, fills our glasses as well. Jim lifts his glass to mine: “Peacock”—this is Jim’s friend, the author and grizzly bear expert, Doug Peacock—“tells me that new indisputable”—he puffs vigorously on his cigarette again—“evidence points to the fact bears have been feeding on migrating

cutworm moths in precisely the same drainage in the Front Range near Glacier National Park for over thousands of years, and recently Peacock determined the bears now arrive before the moths, and wait out the moths’ arrival, whereupon they gorge themselves into a food coma. I’ll order us two steaks— Knee-Cole, two steak sandwiches rare, please, and another vodka for Craig. For a bear, there are more nutrients per part in a cutworm moth than in a cutthroat trout.” By now I have finished my vodka and I am staring straight at Jim, his tanned face gullied with wrinkles and crow’s feet. “That’s how you can believe in God.”


ow I got to know Jim Harrison— outdoorsman, roving gourmand and man of letters, “untrammeled renegade genius” and beloved author of more than 30 books including Dalva and Legends of the Fall—is another story, the short version of which goes: I was born in his hometown and grew up on

Montana Headwall Page 31 Fall 2012

Harrison Road and he takes kindly to river guide/poets with a penchant for good cheese and cold vodka. For now, though, we’re going fishing on the Big Hole where Jim spends 50 or 60 days each summer, and, Carhartted from head to toe but for the Muck boots, he’s knocking at the screen door to my cabin: “Are you ready for some sausage patty, Son?” “I don’t know if I can handle sausage,” I say. “I’m still a tad jangled from last night. How about you?” “A little bit hung-over but that’s to be expected of a Marine of fly fishing. I’m famished from forging the smithy of my

soul. I wrote a poem this morning! Come, we must find sustenance,” he says, in what I think of as his “imperial voice,” aiming his substantial frame toward the Hitching Post's café that sits a mere 50 yards from the cabin door. Inside the café we find our friend and fishing partner, novelist David James Duncan, chatting up the guides who are picking up their sack lunches from Sherri, Nicole’s aunt, queen of the morning shift. We sit down to hot drinks and David tells us what he’s learned from the locals: that the river rose with an overnight rain, and while it has crested,

won’t likely fish well till the afternoon. It’s still springtime in Montana, and the Big Hole’s trout feed mostly when the water warms away their lethargy. “How about the bugs?” Jim asks, referring to the fabled pteronarcys californica, the salmon fly hatch coveted by the angling masses. “Mostly in the canyon or up above, around Silver Bridge,” David says. “Good. We should go downstream then and cover a big chunk of water with streamers. Stay away from the loons.” The loons will arrive momentarily from Bozeman and Butte and Spokane and Salt Lake to chase the 3-inch-long stonefly’s upstream mating flights and the toilet-flushrises these aquatic ribsteaks induce from the trout. Only immensely

was watching two garish tanagers fight over a mayfly. The birds insisted their beauty was more important than my lifetime brown trout, and who am I to disagree with such creatures?” Jim’s response recalls something I read in a recent interview he gave to a publication in France, where he is a veritable folk-hero: “Do you believe in the supernatural?” the interviewer asked Jim. “Of course I do,” Jim said, “because I receive special instructions from the gods. In America, I have a book [of poems] called In Search of Small Gods. Do you really expect one God to create 19 billion galaxies? And did you know that one teaspoon of cosmic black hole weighs 3 billion tons? Think how strong this teaspoon has to be. So, if there are 19 billion galaxies, why can’t I have a soul,

well-cultured anglers such as ourselves would prefer to fish downstream of the hatch; we prefer the solitude and good company, we tell each other, but we also know the downstream brown trout have already gluttoned up on the stoneflies, and, if we can put a streamer deep enough under the right cutbank, we stand to catch the fish of the season, a 2foot, 6-pound brown. “How about Glen to the Notch, then?” I suggest. “I know a perfect lunch spot, and I have some morels and chicken to heat up on the stove.” “I rolled a whopper down there last week,” Jim says, “but I missed it ’cause I

even if it is extremely small? As small as a photon, or better yet, as one of my neurons. It never occurred to me not to believe in the Resurrection.”

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here’s your flask?” Jim asks me. The drift boat is anchored a few miles downstream from Glen Bridge and we’re snacking on a wedge of Manchego while David plies a side-channel on foot. The grass along the bank of the rivulet grows thick and high, the seed-heads already heavy, and from our vantage

David’s hat and moving fly-rod are the only human intrusions visible on the landscape, the graphite glinting with each cast or when it bows under the weight of a fish or bucks with a fish’s run; when David kneels to unhook and release a fish, he disappears altogether. “You mean my vodka flask?” “Last year I was flying to Paris with Dustin Hoffman and we were lamenting the spate of interviews we had lined up upon arrivals. ‘Dustin,’ I said, ‘how do you put up with it all?’ And he said, ‘Jim, it’s easy. I just fill up a water bottle with vodka and sip off it all through the day.’ And I told him, ‘Ha! I know a poet and a fishing guide in Montana who does the exact same thing!’” “It did protect against inane clients, but I quit bringing it during high water. Too easy to make a mistake sober, let alone buzzed.” I don’t need to expound for Jim. Two years ago, he, legendary Livingston outdoorsman Dan Lahren and I floated Rock Creek at flood stage the day before a very competent oarsman flipped his boat and lost a passenger to the cold swift water and ultimately a sweeper. From his home in Livingston, Jim read the news and called me. He sensed I felt some guilt for taking him down such a treacherous stretch of river. “Dommer,” he said, “don’t feel bad. The world is a cruel place. This much we know.” “Let me see that rod of yours,” I say. Jim’s had a few tugs on his streamer—one violent slash from a big fish that sent him into a near-orgasmic state of excitement—but the last hour of fishing has been exceedingly uneventful. “I just saw David hook another fish. I’m going to trail something off of your Yuk Bug.” “Not a worm!” Jim says, referring to the dreaded San Juan worm, an imitation of an aquatic worm whose fly-ness is often disputed in angling circles. “But I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, I

worked in Hollywood for two decades. Nymphing is like bare skin to the film industry. Whenever things get slow…” “Show ’em some tit?” “Precisely, son! Now, no nymphs for me. I’ll take my lumps. Let’s try a Lahren’s Little Olive,” he says, referring to a number 10 woolly bugger tied ragged and wrapped with significant lead.

thought of as “Jim Yoga,” focusing his attention alternately skyward (mountains, birds, clouds) and at ground level (dogs, trout, plants). It’s a ritualistic way of moving through the world that’s revivified him, a way of seeing through eyes other than his own—and those of us who’ve read his books have been revivified as well. “If you spend a fair amount of time studying the world of ravens,” he’s said, “it is logical indeed to accept the fact that at lunch reality is an aggregate of the perceptions of all creatures, not just our." selves.” Save the squeaking oarlocks and the water lapping at the hull, the boat is wonderfully quiet. Flicker calls, warbler note-cascades, wind, around us the scent of budding cottonwoods. Then Jim says: “Come on trout! You don’t want to see little Jimmy throw a tantrum, do you? You know, Davey, I once caught a 3-pound brown on this left bank coming up. Right—” Jim pauses and waits for his Little Olive to slap against the bank— “here!” And before he can strip the line, a chunky brown trout cartwheels out of its element for the fly, latches onto the hook, and Jim let’s out a whoop. We are all three more than a little bit dumbfounded. David and I exchange glances of substantial bafflement as I slip the net under the fish.

“I don’t drink before four in the afternoon, but of course wine on the river is not drinking And take the lumps he does. With David back in the boat talking Ikkyu with Jim (“Clouds very high look,” Ikkyu wrote eight centuries ago, “not one word helped them get up there”) we drift downstream. Jim covers the water as thoroughly as a flight of swallows covers the air above the river at dusk—there isn’t an inch of holding water that he fails to twitch the fly seductively through,

but no grabs from the big browns who have shied away from the high sun. I’m rowing hard against the snowfed currents, trying my two-armed best to hold the boat adjacent to the prime lies, so I see only Jim’s tan fly line at the edge of my periphery, zinging back and out against the banks. Every now and then he stops casting to marvel at a warbler or a tanager, to feel, as he says in one of his poems, “the grace of their intentions,” and then he returns his attention to the water and his casts. He’s practicing what I’ve long


e lunch on my favorite island in the world: a cottonwood-laden dry wash that divvies a slow side channel from the hard-rushing main river, which passes the land, then slams hard into a tall sandstone cliff, pivots sharply to the east, and hurtles downstream. The two currents meet and form a lazy back eddy, above which swallows are usually on the hunt, and above the water, adjacent the

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cliff, sloping steadily to the north, a deep swale hosts tall grasses and sage. I say “we lunch,” but I have forgotten the propane for my portable grill (I could build a fire and cook over coals, but we expect the fishing to turn on within the hour). In the cooler, I have chicken thighs marinating in olive oil, Tabasco, salt, pepper and thyme, some fresh asparagus and, as an aperitif, some morels I gathered a few days ago from a burn near Missoula—but no gas! And thus, no fire for the roving gourmand who doubtless sees the disappointment in my eyes and offers: “I have some Washington coho that I grilled last night.” “And a bottle of wine,” David says. “I don’t drink before four in the afternoon,” Jim says, “but of course wine at lunch on the river is not drinking. Here, son, cut yourself some salami—did I show you this wine key and knife a woman gave to me in France? We’ll have a tidy snack and then how about a nap in the warm sand?” We eat the cold smoky wild salmon and wash it down with gouts of Côtes du Rhône, chew on thick slices of salami, and soon, we’re lounging in the shade of some young cottonwoods with our hands behind our heads like old cowhands. We’ve all three had long years—health issues, legal issues, money issues—but like good migratory creatures we’re back along a familiar shore, contemplating the currents. Dangerous as the river is, Jim wrote recently in a poem, that “only the water is safe.”


’m not so much startled awake, because I wasn’t really sleeping, but Jim’s nasally voice surprises me: “You found yourself a nice island here, Dommer.” With a smile on his face, David is still sleeping, so I tell Jim in a whisper about how several years ago I camped here with my wife Mary and our infant son, and how, after nursing all night, our son still wouldn’t sleep, so I held him in the camp chair before dawn so Mary could nod off. The river rushed around the island, slammed hard into the sandstone cliff wall, then caromed through an audible riffle that charged through a short

box canyon. The stars wheeled, the earth turned, but momentarily I felt that we, my son and I, sat outside of time. It grinds the mind down, the sound of shallow water, and as the old goateed poet next to me once wrote: “The mind ground is being as it is.” “That’s a wonderful story,” Jim says. “We must honor it with a 4-pound brown this afternoon. Davey, wake up, the fish await with open mouths!” What I love most about Jim is that, since he’s constantly altering your perception of him, he allows you to alter your perception of yourself, to be malleable like the current. Without a soft

has a personal retrieve. He strips line vigorously and darts the rod tip back and forth at the surface of the water, which makes his streamer, an articulated creation that we call The Fly-Fisherman’s Rapala, look precisely like a flagging minnow, but makes him look like he’s playing air guitar. Tugged upstream beside a riprap bank, the fly zigzags across the surface and is engulfed by a violent buttery swirl. Big brown. David’s rod bucks with animal energy, then straightens as the fish comes unhooked. Jim hollers—he’s latched onto a 20-inch rainbow that Riverdances across the riffle on its tail. I net Jim’s broad-shouldered fish and we pledge to toast its surfaceskimming leap tonight, its lengthy exit from its watery world.


mind, someone said, you cannot be very strong. Jim is ox-big these days and I wouldn’t ask him to outrun a mule, but his mind moves like a jackrabbit. At 70-something years old, he seems to be certain of only a few things: good wine, garlic, and the necessity of time on the water. When we’ve catalogued only 15 percent of the world’s species, he seems to say, why be certain of anything? A few moments later though, fishing, he is quite certain that a red-bellied Yuk Bug—a white-legged, grizzly-hackled, squirrel-tailed, three-inch-long beast— is precisely the fly he needs. “I had a fish strike this so hard last year,” he says, “it yanked the rod out of my hands!” We find no such denizens downstream, but the bite is on. Solid fish swirl on our streamers on the dump (as they land), on the swing (as they hook downstream with the current), and on the strip (as they dance at the hands of the anglers turned puppeteers). David

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riving home on the Burma Road, we pass an old dilapidated house—doorless, windowless, roof caved in by a windfall cottonwood. It’s home, if you ask the locals, to one of the largest, most seething dens of rattlesnakes in the valley. “Son, do you see that old house?” Jim says. “Sure I do.” “Good. Do you know what it says?” “No, what does it say?” “It says: Don’t let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work.” It’s evening and the light across the green-for-a-few-more-weeks hills makes the sage look like suede. I want what Jim said to sink in, to eddy in my brain and take root, but the moment vanishes like a cloud shadow on the snowfields of the distant Pioneers because we pass a roadside pond, a ditch, really, and David says: “Chris, slow down! Back up! Phalaropes in the pond!” I back the truck and boat trailer carefully up the road, and see them: four small birds spin around and around, dervish-like, on the dusk-lit water, dislodging food from the weeds below them that they dip down occasionally to eat. They turn and turn like oblong tops. They are doing something we humans couldn’t do. We are silent for a long moment. Then Jim says: “My God. Four phalaropes. We are blessed!”

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Tom Mousel


n a rainy June morning, Tom Mousel acts like a cat stalking a bird. One vein pops on his shaved head as he peers through his rifle’s scope, his thumb and forefinger poised on the stock and trigger. He’s as fierce as he is composed. Nothing moves as he locks in on his target. Twelve other shooters are lined up alongside Mousel at the Deep Creek Range, all of them aiming down a stretch of grassy valley flanked by pine-treed mountains covered in light mist. They wear hearing protectors that look like large headphones. They cradle sleek, custom-built rifles mounted with highend Nightforce scopes. Their targets, far in the gray, drizzly distance, look like small white rectangles that you can barely make out with the naked eye. Even through the scope they’re blurred as though submerged in a dirty aquarium. It’s understandable that the bull’s-eyes are so hard to see. After all, they’re 1,000 yards away. As in, more than half a mile. As in, 10 football fields. The line officer yells, “You have six minutes for practice. Ready on the right. Ready on the left. Insert your bolt…The line is hot!” That’s when Mousel begins squeezing the trigger, his shots ringing with the others on the line. After six minutes of practice, “cease fire” is called. Mousel makes small adjustments, emphasis on small. He’s judging every little element—wind, rain, the placement of his rifle—that can affect where his bullets hit on the other end of the valley. “There isn’t a human on Earth that can see every little thing that affects where the bullet’s going,” Mousel says. “We’re not trying to overpower Mother Nature or outsmart her, we’re just trying to outrun her. So you run the gun with one hand and cross your fingers with the other.” When the line is called hot again, the real competition begins. Mousel fires 10 shots in quick succession. Some shooters drive their guns steady and fast, like Mousel, while others take a little more time with each bullet. In a matter of minutes, the tournament is over. A thousand yards away, men who’ve been tucked into a 10-foot-deep pit below the targets, mapping the order in which each bullet hits, gather the sheets and drive their trucks back to the top of the range to tally the scores. They meet the shooters in a pavilion

limit. “If you can haul it to the bench, near the range caretaker’s sage-colored you can shoot it,” says Bill Brown, the double-wide, behind a cattle-gate Montana group’s president. After each affixed with warning signs: “No guests. round of competition—or “relay”— Check the rules.”; “Members Only”; shooters put their guns on a scale (like a and “Slow down: your not in L.A.” [sic]. Top prize in today’s competition is wrestler weighing in) to make sure their piece is legitimate and the score qualia modest $65. It’s not so much about the money. It’s fies. After several relays in each class, the shooters tally the scores. about the challenge, the camaraderie and, at least among these shooters, the notoriety. This crowd boasts three “Sometimes a can regulars—Mousel, Leo Anderson and Cody and it’ll go to the Finch—who between them hold half of all the 1,000-yard benchrest There's so many shooting world records. Mousel’s adjustments on Scores rely on two factors: target the line may be small, but they often point value and group size. The target have significant impact on the sport. point value is based on how many shots a shooter can squeeze into the bull’s-eye, or “10 ring,” which is 7 inches in diamefew Montana shooters travel to the ter. The highest possible score is a 10 out World Open each year in of 10, or 100. While shooters aim for a Williamsport, Penn., the recognized home

mosquito four inches

honestly do that. They might tell you they can, but it’s not possible. Not to the inch.” With such small margins, technique matters. In a relay, shooters don’t have time to observe exactly where the bullets are going. Sometimes, under the right conditions, they can make out a bullet-hole in the target, but mostly they’re making tiny adjustments according to wind and, most importantly, mirage. Sunny, warm on it days create a shimmering illusion across their … field of vision. It’s both a hindrance and an aid. “Mirage helps you .” and it kills you at the same time,” says Mousel, who holds world records in two different light-gun categories. “It indicates which direction and how fast the air is moving but it also makes a target that is for sure not moving, appear to be moving.” Mousel talks about other adjustments a shooter can make, but admits that after

fart left variables


Leo Anderson

of 1,000-yard shooting, but the biggest competition for Deep Creek regulars is the one they host. The Montana championship, put on by the Northwest 1,000-Yard Benchrest Association in August, features $37,000 in prize money and draws shooters from Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, the Dakotas and California, plus a stray shooter or two from Missouri, New Mexico, and even from Williamsport. Smaller weekly competitions begin at Deep Creek in March and culminate with the three-day championship event. Shooters contend in two official weight classes: light-gun and heavy-gun. Light guns have to weigh 17 pounds or less and heavies can weigh as much as 90 pounds, though there’s no maximum

high target point value, the group size should be low. Shooters try to get all their bullets to hit in the smallest possible cluster; the diameter of that cluster is the group size. A shooter has 15 minutes in light-gun class and 10 minutes in heavy-gun class to fire 10 shots. Most use a fraction of the allotted time. “The wind is your biggest enemy,” says Mousel, who may expel all of his bullets in as little as 20 seconds. “The bullet’s in flight for a second and a half. If you get your 10 shots in as quick as you can, it gives Mother Nature less time to mess you up. Or you’ve got to be good enough to read the wind each and every time. I don’t know a gunman that can

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a while it comes down to gut feel and perfect execution. “Been wrong. Been right,” he says of mid-relay adjustments. “You’ve got to make up your mind, though. Sometimes a mosquito can fart on it and it’ll go four inches to the left. I don’t know. There’s so many variables. There’s so many things that can happen.”


ousel, 37, is a fairly serious lover of guns, to the exclusion of nearly all other interests. He also has a smartass sense of humor about his passion. “What’s key to this,” he says, “is you don’t want to get married if you can help it, so then you can spend all your

resources on guns and ammo and your time on tuning them. Yeah, you don’t want to have to answer questions.” He smiles slyly and adds, “Well, I like the one I’m with now, so we’ll see. I just gotta do the test. I’m gonna drag another 75-pound gun home—I think this winter I’ll build one—and if there’s no bothers about it, well, she’s all right.” Mousel, who lives in Kalispell, got into the 1,000-yard game when he met Leo Anderson at a Whitefish shooting range in 2008. He noticed the light gun Anderson was using with its laminate stock, “clear-coated and pretty.” “I was just shooting some varmint rifle and I was emptying out some ammo or something and I saw the gun and I was curious about it,” Mousel says. “That night he had me back at 1,000 yards shooting clay pigeons with his gun, and I was hooked right then and there.” Like so many Deer Creek shooters, Mousel’s priorities are hunting first, 1,000-yard shooting second. There’s a reason the 1,000-yard shooting season ends in August: Come September, these guys—and the club’s few female members—are out in the mountains looking for bull elk, even if that means missing major events, like the 1,000-yard International Benchrest Shooters competition held the first weekend in September in West Virginia. “That probably works out for those people over East that don’t know what

and his wife, Pat, also a 1,000yard shooter, got her bulk elk at 900 yards. He smiles proudly, then adds, “Of course, going and getting it was a little bit of work.”


apehart counts himself among the founders of the Northwest 1,000-Yard Benchrest Association. In 1996, he and two other shooters built the shooting shed and the pavilion, where everyone gathers for barbecue lunches and to tally scores. Back in those days, Capehart regularly broke records and won relays with a heavy .308 barrel. “I had a lot of records until these two came along,” he says, nodding toward Mousel and Anderson. “I had the best gun probably in the United States. And I was hard to beat.” Duane Capehart At one early national championship held at Deep Creek, an elk is, but we got better things to do Capehart took his place in the middle of come September,” says Mousel. the firing line with nine other competiThe ability to shoot 1,000-yard tors from across the country, and before benchrest doesn’t necessarily translate the line went hot, climbed up on his to hunting. Duane Capehart, a 1,000yard benchrest veteran, says some hunters will join the club thinking that once they develop the skill it’ll be a cinch to shoot animals at a long range. “It don’t work that way,” he says. “It’s like driving a car at a racetrack. You can drive around at 120 miles an hour but if you try to go 140, you’re not going to make it around.” Translating the skills to hunting takes practice and patience. Capehart says he once shot an elk at 1,265 yards

benchrest and yelled, “Which one of you sons of bitches is shootin’ for second?” You can’t afford to lose a relay with that kind of attitude, and Capehart didn’t. Capehart shoots in the 5-inch group now, with average scores of 99.5, but when he first started a shooter could win competitions with 7-, 8- and 9-inch groups. Back then, he says, no one could get all their bullets in the center ring for a perfect score. “Chasing that first 100, that’s the milestone that eluded us forever,” says Anderson, who now holds world records in two different light-gun categories. “For years I shot 98s and 99s and won.” It took some time for the equipment to catch up. Just glancing at the rifles at the shooting range, it’s hard to gauge how far the sport has come in recent years. Most shooters at Deep Creek use 6mm dashers that are more streamlined than hunting rifles. The gun stocks have large slablike front ends and long barrels to help with balance. When a shot is fired, the spent casing drops smoothly out of a hole in the bottom rather than rashly ejecting from the gun. It’s a more graceful motion, perfect for a rifle that’s level and locked into one place and required to be free of recoil. “Those are strictly for benchrest,” says Mousel of the setup. “You wouldn’t want it for shooting a squirrel out of a tree because you’d hold it at an angle and the [case] probably wouldn’t fall out. It’s fast coming out and then you’ve got another one going in.” While shooters bemoan the constant challenge of changing weather conditions, they at least maintain control over the quality of their equipment. As with gearheads in any endeavor, 1,000-yarders own several guns each—at least two for each weight class—and they have an affinity for anything custom-built. For starters, a shooter orders an action (those made by Viper, Bat and Defiance are popular) and ships it to a Federal Firearms License-holding dealer, where ownership is legally transferred into the shooter’s name. Then it’s a matter of picking out the goodies: a barrel, stock,

optics and trigger. The average setup starts between $3,000 and $6,000, depending on gun class. In the earlier days of competition, no attachments to the gun stocks were allowed. The rule was dropped recently, meaning shooters can create wider stocks with add-ons. They can also attach tuners, which slide up and down the barrel to change the distribution of weight, altering how the barrel vibrates. “This game is good equipment,” Mousel says. “And the equipment has evolved. The shooting part is up to the individual, but to be competitive at this you have to shoot the best equipment.” Ammunition is a key piece of the

game. Devices meticulously sort and trim each bullet to lab-quality precision. “A lot goes into a bullet before it’s shot,” says Anderson. “It’s all about consistency and uniformity.” A gun must also be re-tuned for every batch of new bullets. “The grain difference has an effect,” explains Ed Janikowsky, a heavy-gun champ. “You re-tune it by moving the bullet in and out. It can make a big difference where it’s seated—by the two-thousandths [of a grain].” Gunpowder also affects the weight transfer, and Mousel uses a high-tech scale to weigh his. The scale is encased in a plastic chamber. It has a sliding door that he can open and stick his hand through to place the powder on the scale. Inside the chamber it’s safe from anything—sudden drafts or airborne particles—that might distort the measurement. “It reads to five one-thousandths of a grain, which is like an eyebrow hair,” he

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says, laughing. “Does it really matter? No.” “That’s a little too anal,” Anderson agrees.


n 2008, Anderson shot what would still be the light-gun group world record at 3.426 inches and 100 point score. He didn’t weigh his gun right away, though, unaware of how well he’d shot. Breaking that rule cost him an official record recognized by Williamsport, though the Montana club honors it. Now that equipment has gotten so precise, down to the weight of an eyelash, these records aren’t getting easier to catch. “I broke one world record the first season out and I broke one the next year,” says Mousel. “I broke two last year and I didn’t break any this year. We’re trying to break our own records and they’re getting harder to beat.” The group has learned some interesting lessons over the years: Conventional wisdom says the heavier the gun, the steadier it’ll shoot. But in Montana, at least, the light-gun aggregate scores right now beat the heavy guns. The fact that you can shoot a 17-pound gun in either light or heavy classes makes it all the more interesting. Ed Janikowsky, for instance, shot his 17-pound gun in a heavy weight class and got a 3.399 group and 100 point score. It wasn’t a record in the heavyweight class, but would have been in lightweight. That’s just the breaks, and mostly these guys take such strokes of bad luck in stride. On one rainy summer weekend, Anderson’s target got so wet while he was sighting in during the practice round that he wasn’t able to make out where his bullets were hitting. He ended up off mark during the relay and shot 92, a low score that will impact his aggregate for the year. After the relay, the organization’s president, Bill Brown, felt terrible and apologized to Anderson in front of the other shooters for not changing out the wet target for a dry one. Anderson induced a fit of laughter when he smiled, shrugged, and said, “Ah, it’s just world records.”

WILD THINGS by Skylar Browning

here is a certain wuss factor at play identifying as a cat person rather than a dog person. When it comes to domesticated pets, canines are associated with tricks on command, undying loyalty and Lassie-like smarts. Felines, meanwhile, get pegged as languid and apathetic. Dogs are everywhere, especially in Montana. Cats hide under beds. Boastful moments can be hard to come by for the cat crowd. That is, unless you look to a handful of cases in the Bitterroot. The most recent occurred in May, when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist Liz Bradley found one of her radio-collared wolves half-eaten and covered with woody debris in an area west of Sula, near Warm Springs. Clumps of fur littered the site and the radio collar was oddly unattached to any part of anything. Amid the carnage, Bradley found the wolf’s head and a clue to what had happened. “Mountain lions have a distinctive kill pattern,” she says. “For a lion, one of the things they do is approach from behind and bite through the top of the skull or the back of the neck to kill other animals. We found a single puncture wound going through the wolf’s skull. You’d normally think of two puncture wounds, but the second canine [tooth] in a lion is usually going through the orbital.” This wasn’t the first time Bradley had come across such a grisly scene. The May kill mirrored another in January west of Lolo, and a third from 2009 in the West Fork drainage. All were attributed to mountain lions, and Bradley suspects two other radio-collared wolves found dead in 2010 resulted from conflicts with lions over territory or food. In each case, Bradley discovered similar puncture wounds and hair-plucking around the point of entry, a meticulous step taken by lions before they consume the meat. She also noticed two of the dead wolves had been cached, the un-eaten portions of the carcass buried and saved for later, another common characteristic of a lion kill. Bradley cautions


that these instances are “unusual,” but make no mistake: The lion proved king, affirming its standing among western Montana’s most vicious megafauna. Mountain lions have long lived at the top of the food chain in the Rocky Mountain West. Before European settlement, the big cats were the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere, ranging from northern British Columbia to the southern tip of South America. Hunting, loss of habitat and prey decimation forced the animals primarily to the western states, but legal protections have helped keep numbers high. Since the Montana Legislature classified the cats as game animals in 1971, lion hunting has been regulated and the species has regained most of its historical range in the state. Mountain lions—also referred to as catamounts, cougars and pumas—are known for being adaptive to their environment. Fiercely territorial, they are brutally efficient hunters who typically feed on deer and elk. They possess powerful limbs and can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40. A typical adult male weighs between 85 and 125 pounds, and stretches up to 8 feet long from head to tail. Despite being significantly smaller than their preferred prey, it’s not unusual for one cat to bring down a 400-pound elk. They’re also one of the few predators unafraid to take on porcupines. For all the lion’s notable hunting skills, it still shares some characteristics with its domesticated brethren. Both attack the same way: in crouching position, with tail erect. Lions also avoid eye contact and, if noticed, dramatically feign disinterest. Like house cats, cougars prefer to be alone and stay close to established territory. Males keep within a 100-square-mile “home range,” and remain solitary except during courtship. For this reason, human encounters with Montana mountain lions are rare. Wolves, it seems, are not so lucky.

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GRUB ometimes, after a tough day pursuing ungulates, a hunter needs more than calories from dinner. The evening meal calls for rejuvenation, warmth and perhaps a chance for camaraderie among friends. A good red chile stew can provide all three. Note the “e.” That single letter helps distinguish the meaty New Mexican version of this dish from the bean-packed concoction widely known as “chili.” The latter has no place at hunting camp for obvious reasons. But a good red chile stew offers an invigorating mix of hydration and sustenance, a homemade comfort- and capsicum-induced endorphin rush, all of which add up to a potent and tasty meal. It’s like backcountry medicine. Meat-filled red chile stew, unlike a bean-filled chili, cooks quickly. Most people don’t realize that beans taste good only when cooked for hours. There’s no time for that at hunting camp. With its focus on meat, onion and spices, a flavorful batch of chile stew finishes faster and precludes hunger-induced bickering as your party waits for its meal. For four hearty servings, start by cutting two pounds of meat, preferably from a recent kill, into inch-thick cubes. Brown the meat in oil in a Dutch oven. Add one chopped onion. The interaction between sizzling browned meat and juicy raw onions is crucial. Stir the onions and meat together, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent buildup. When the chopped onion has given up all its water and started to brown, add red chile powder. If you have pepper

by Ari LeVaux


powder choices where you shop, go for the brightest and mildest powder, with mildness being the most important quality. Why mild? It’s important to note that powder adds vital flavors to your dish as well as heat. In order to pack as much of that chile flavor into the stew as possible—without sending anyone to the ER—it helps to go mild. For four sizeable servings, I add half a cup of powder. Stir the powder in well, along with two tablespoons each of your choice of thyme, marjoram, herbs de Provence and oregano, and three or more tablespoons of garlic powder. Stir it all together and then add two quarts of water or stock. My preference is Better Than Bouillon brand beef, chicken or turkey. If you want potatoes in your chile stew—a staple in New Mexican green chile stew, but just as delicious in the red version—cut them into one-inch cubes and add them now. Be sure to add half a cup of water for every full-size potato. At this point, heat a stack of tortillas, wrapped in foil. It’s best if they warm slowly, perhaps close to the wood stove, near where the boots are drying. As the red chile stew cooks, season it with salt and pepper, red wine, vinegar or lemon. The stew will thicken a little over time, but expect it to be more watery than traditional chili. Simmer, season, sample. If you added potatoes, be sure they’re completely cooked before you consider serving. Season some more, simmer a little longer, sample again, and then serve, with warm tortillas. No matter how low the temperature drops at hunting camp, you’ll stay warm after a bowl of this red chile stew. And you’ll be in bed a lot sooner than if you waited for beans to cook.

Chad Harder

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by Nick Davis • photos by Chad Harder


Take it to the limit A sports fan’s friendly wager leads to a sportsman’s dream hough the words differ only by a space and a letter, the worlds of the sportsman and the sports fan are leagues apart. The sportsman is by nature a supreme engager, a nurturer of the wildness within himself, an allegiant to the animals he chases and the places they live. The sports fan is by nature a supreme observer, a nurturer of the often-failed competitor within himself, an allegiant to entities with whom he has no direct contact. Thankfully, we live in a country that offers not only an embarrassment of riches for each type, but also the freedom to fully embrace both approaches, should your personality accommodate such variance. Mine certainly does— though outside of sharing a boat or a hunting blind with a like-minded sports fan, those split personalities have never intersected. Never, that is, until last year, when the two worlds collided with a glorious result.


••• The deal came about when the Green Bay Packers met the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl in February

2011. My colleague Stacy Ratliff, an avid Steelers fan, proposed a bet that would have had me playing fishing guide for a day to Stacy and his brother, Jay, in the event of a Steelers win, or Stacy and Jay playing host to my hunt on their family farm in central Montana should my Packers prevail. To me, each of Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ three touchdown passes that day looked like the flight path of a wild pheasant, and his right arm earned him an MVP trip to Disney World while simultaneously punching my ticket to pheasant-hunting nirvana. Any day of hunting pheasant is an exceptional one, but this had the makings of an epic. To begin with, I had never before hunted over a pointing dog, and Stacy’s reports on Slick, Jay’s 9year-old German shorthaired pointer, were glowing. The kicker, though, was that Jay presides over nearly 500 acres of prime pheasant habitat, and had vowed to keep a section free of hunters for the first three days of the season so that we, on the fourth day, would be chasing birds that had not been shot at for the better part of a year—if ever.

Getting an early start from Missoula, I met the brothers Ratliff shortly after daybreak at a crossroads near the farm. Time spent around Stacy and his immediate family had convinced me that the Ratliff clan is constructed of exceptional moral fiber, and Jay added further proof when he confessed, at our introduction, that he himself was not a Steelers fan and that he was carrying his brother’s load because, well, that’s what brothers do. From the rendezvous we headed for our destination, the roads progressing from smooth pavement to frost-heaved asphalt and then to washboard dirt. We pulled into the corner of a large field devoted to CRP—short for Conservation Reserve Program, a highly effective piece of federal legislation that pays farmers to plant erosion-preventing and wildlifefriendly cover on portions of their land—and I’m pretty sure Slick and I quivered on the same white-hot wavelength as we exited the vehicles. Stacy and I grinned as we each slid a Browning Auto 5 shotgun—his a beautiful Belgian-made 16-gauge, mine a latermodel, Japanese-made 12-gauge—out of

their respective cases. The Auto 5 is unmistakable, nicknamed “Humpback” due to an abnormally squared-off receiver. Its aficionados are an intimate group because most shotgun shooters find its unique sightline and sturdy nature (read: heavy) a bit anachronistic. Though it was designed and functions best as a waterfowl gun, I shoot mine for upland birds as well. Once you get used to heaving the Auto 5 to your shoulder and squaring your eye behind that magnificent hump, it can be tough to adjust to the low profile of a sweet-shooting double-barrel, the classic upland gun. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself until my wife and our bank account agree to test the theory. ••• I don’t really know what I expect in these situations—a strategy session? the primal tones of an English-style hunting horn?—but upland hunts always seem to begin quite abruptly, and this one was no exception. A mere minute or two after arrival the three of us entered the field, moving quickly behind a joyously focused Slick. Slick is Jay’s third consecutive German shorthair, and as with the first two he trained her himself. After 100 yards or so she stopped ranging and began moving in ever smaller concentric circles, zeroing in on the bull’s-eye her nose promised was there.

Jay motioned frantically for us to move up behind Slick, and as we crashed through the thick mix of alfalfa, flax and wild grasses behind her she stopped, rigid, her nose and tail stretched in opposite directions. I’ve shot upland behind plenty of retrievers—mostly Labs, and some damn good ones—and the electric moment when the dog gets birdy (tail cir-

cling furiously, nose hyperventilating scent) is followed by an often frantic effort to remain within gun range of the crazed beast. Retrievers, by genetic rule, cannot stop until the bird is in the air, and sometimes not even then. It’s often joked that “Goddammitgetyerassbackherenow!” (or some close variant) is the most common name for an upland retriever. Walking up behind a locked-up pointer is, by contrast, a lesson in deranged physics. As you approach the dog your

steps become slow and deliberate, all noise and peripheral vision disappear, and time expands like it does in a good suspense movie when all hell is about to break loose. Your eyes follow a line from the dog’s nose into the thick tangle, searching for any hint of the explosion to come. And when it does come, when a careful step pushes the edge of the bird’s personal space and it rockets out of the grass as loudly as a flat tire at high speed, time compresses in black-hole fashion. In the seconds that follow, out of pure reflex you bring the gun to shoulder while simultaneously swinging its barrel along the bird’s flight path. Your brain scrambles to identify the bird’s gender (ears straining for the telltale rooster cluck, eyes for long tail feathers, that impossible color palette), and if it is indeed the vainer of the sexes you pull the end of the barrel through the bird’s body and squeeze the trigger at a point, determined by flight trajectory, speed, distance and wind, in front of the bird’s head. Perspective returns only after the bird falls or flies away, and the flavor of that perspective is tied quite tightly to the result. Slick’s first point followed the script until the gender-identification part, and with heart firmly lodged in throat I watched the hen fly away unmolested. The next several clean points were hens as well, and in the interims a few roosters

busted ahead of us, well out of gun range. The fact that these unpressured birds still possessed such a hypersensitive danger threshold pretty much defines why pheasants are so highly regarded among wingshooters. Stacy was flanked to Jay’s left and I to his right, and when Slick ranged off to my right and went from 0 to 60 on the scent-o-meter in no time flat, Jay shouted through the wind for me to get ready. The rooster erupted out of the grass just before Slick came to point, but I was close enough to swing on the big bird as it hit the jetstream and I knocked it down with one shot. I turned around just as Jay came sprinting by on a beeline for the spot where the bird went down. I felt confident in the shot and the way the bird had folded but Jay would later tell me that he’s lost too many apparently dead birds in the thick stuff to chance it. As he handed me the gorgeous bird Jay complimented the shot, confessing he had harbored little hope of a Missoula writer being any kind of a wingshooter. What happened next constitutes one of the most indelible scenes of my sporting life. We had worked one side of the field, and as we approached its end Jay

informed us that he had earlier seen quite a few birds in the vicinity of a field separated from us by a short patch of plowed-up dirt. As we turned along the field’s edge, birds began spilling into the plowed section, hens and roosters scuttling quickly along the troughs with their heads down. Out in front of us, more birds began to get up outside of shooting range, first a single or two, then in groups of two to six. Slick was jumping out of her skin, darting crazily back and forth as she tried to isolate a single bird in the middle of what must have smelled like a pheasant factory. Slick finally came to point in front of me and Stacy, and as we moved up behind her a whitetail doe with three fawns materialized out of the thicket a mere 20 yards downfield. A moment later, the bird—a rooster—flushed, and I took one flustered shot that missed cleanly. My second shot echoed with Stacy’s first, and the bird went down like it was wearing lead shoes. At the sound of the shots the deer fled through the field in front of us and birds began busting everywhere—singles, doubles, groups of three, five, eight—and we stood dumbstruck. Over the next 90 seconds, there Montana Headwall Page 49 Fall 2012

must have been upwards of 150 pheasants in the air. Most of them were well out of range, and the weight and chaos of the moment prevented us from shooting at those close by. We gathered our wits and headed back downfield—Slick working like a champ, Stacy and I both shooting well—and 90 minutes after we were back at the vehicles with two limits in hand. ••• Stacy and I swapped seats for the ride back to the farmhouse so I could ask Jay some questions about the place. As we drove past neighboring fields displaying significant pheasant activity, Jay estimated that one section of CRP, like the one we had just hunted, provided enough pheasant food and habitat for a 5-mile radius. I asked him about other upland species and he replied that he often saw coveys of Hungarian partridges in the grass along the road, and that when he had a shotgun in the truck he would stop and honk, flushing the birds out into a bordering field. He would then walk into the field (as long it was his, or a friendly neighbor’s) and try his luck on the smaller, quicker Huns. On cue, a covey of a dozen Huns scurried across the road in front of us. Jay looked at me with raised eyebrows, and I replied emphatically. He stopped and honked, and the birds flushed about 50

yards into a nearby field of 8-inch barley stubble. Stacy and I grabbed our shotguns and the three of us (Slick stayed in the truck, since we knew exactly where the birds were) approached the landing area.

A few steps later they exploded from under our feet in a whirring

rush and rocketed through the air in every direction. Though smaller than pheasants, Huns aren’t exactly sparrow-sized, but these birds disappeared into the sparse stubble like ghosts. A few steps later they exploded from under our feet in a whirring rush and rocketed through the air in every direction. I shot two clean holes in the sky before taking a breath and dispatching a late-rising bird with my third shot. Stacy

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went one for two, and we headed back to the rigs two Huns richer. We got back to Jay’s farmhouse with plenty of time to clean the birds before lunch. One of the six roosters carried a mixed load of 12- and 16-gauge shot, and Stacy graciously donated the bird to my freezer. I mentioned earlier the Ratliff moral fiber; it turned out to be matched by their warmth and grace. Inside the farmhouse we found an idyllic scene, a combination of Jay and Stacy’s angelic families ripped straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We all sat down for a meal of Taco Joes—yep, Sloppy Joes imbued with the spices and toppings of the American taco—capped by a dessert of warm apple turnovers and ice cream. After a digestive respite aided by tales of family, farming and hunting in central Montana, I left the Ratliff cocoon in midafternoon and headed back home, knowing full well that I was unlikely to experience such a hunt ever again. For a singleminded sportsman, the realization of such an early peak to the season could reasonably be followed by a major letdown, the hollowness that accompanies dissolving magic. But me? No such problem. Hell, I had another Packer game to look forward to, that very weekend. And who knows? If the Packers and Steelers meet in a future Super Bowl, perhaps the sportsman/fan will rise again.

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SEPTEMBER September 1 Show the neighbors why you own all that camouflage on the opening day for archery hunting of antelope, deer and elk. The season lasts though Oct. 14, giving the critters a oneweek vacay to relax before the general rifle season pops off on Oct. 20. For those who are less Carlos Hathcock and lean more toward the style of hunting favored by the Inca king Atahualpa, the Annual Montana Atlatl Mammoth Hunt might be your ticket to a paradise lost. The event allows experts and beginners alike to toss the old spear around First Peoples Buffalo Jump near Ulm, and enjoy a freshly killed wooly mammoth burger. Fine, the last bit isn’t true, but the spear part is. Call 866-2217.

September 8 End the summer biking season with a whimper, a moan or possibly cardiac arrest at the Huckleberry Hillclimb, an uphill race featuring 3,800 feet of vertical climbing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Certainly the views make it all worthwhile. Visit

This go-round we’re going to let the organizers describe the 2012 MTCC Garden City Triathlon: “All the fast-paced Olympic distance racing you want, tied up with the glamour and allure of Frenchtown without the pretension and attitude of a big city triathlon.” ‘Nuff said. Get in on the three-way action at

Here you go, you psychotic pedal pushers: a 141-mile road race that begins in Red Lodge, Mont., cruises into Wyoming and makes its way over not one, but two passes: the Chief Joseph and Beartooth. Throw in a mere 5,000 feet of elevation gain and speeds topping 50 mph on the downhill, and you’ve got yourself a time. This is the Montana Cycling & Ski Race Series Yellowstone Alpine Klimb. Learn more at

You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no Ekalaka, Mont., but you should know about the Medicine Rocks Buffalo Shoot. This annual two-day contest features participants shooting lever-action, .22 rifles and revolvers at steel animal silhouettes up to 800 yards away. Sunday adds long-range buffalo rifles to the mix. Period costume is encouraged but not required. For more information call 775-6705.

Get down and dirty—for a cause—at the second annual Dirty Dash and Mad Mudder at the Missoula Equestrian Park on September 15. Three miles of tunnels, mud pits, slip and slides and balance beams provide the challenge; CASA of Missoula, an organization that advocates for children in the judicial system, provides the inspiration. Call 542-1208. Chad Harder

September 15 The 37th Annual Mt. Helena Classic is as classic as a Montana race course can get: The 5.6mile route begins in the historic Last Chance Gulch in downtown Helena before switching to mountain trail running through Mount Helena City Park. The payoff is big views of the Elkhorn and Little Belt mountains. To participate in this most capital event, head to September 16 The Hammer Nutrition Two-Bear Marathon & Half Marathon in Whitefish sounds like a hoot, and by hoot I mean a meat grinder that takes you from paved roads to mountainous single-track, and from well-hydrated sanity to kneeshaking desiccation. Did I mention the downhill stretches? Because there are plenty. Unleash your inner bear at September 21 Be all kinds of powerful at the Fall Mack Days on Flathead Lake, where anglers help quell the overpopulation of lake trout by catching as many of them monsters as they can each Fri.-Sun. through Nov. 11. Up to $125,000 in cash and prizes are offered. Learn the full story at September 28 Proof that cyclists love beer as much as they love chatting about the exceptional Panaracer XC tires made circa 1994 is right here at Ales for Trails, a fundraiser to build more trails for the residents of Billings, with tunes, a farmer’s grip of microbrews and, of course, pedaling. Head to September 29 Hey cheapskates, pull out the backpack you borrowed from Uncle Steve last year, scrounge some coins out of the couch cushions, gas up the hoopty, and head out on the highway this National Public Lands Day to take advantage of free entry to Treasure State fee areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Park Service. Learn more at

Well, Frenchy, here is your chance to step out in a big way: Sign up for Le Grizz Ultramarathon and you may end up being as hungry as a horse after you cover the 50-mile course that runs parallel to, hey, the Hungry Horse Reservoir southeast of Columbia Falls. By the way, the course record is a mere 5:34:38. You got 9 mph in you, right? Visit October 14 While chasing sheep might be more my style, you hale and hardy trail runners ought to check out the South Hills Annual Trail Series (S.H.A.T.S.) Goat Pursuit Chad Harder run in Helena. The race is run in a time-trial format, with runners taking off at 30-second intervals, slowOCTOBER est runners going first. To register visit October 6 Oh gurl, time to get your swagger on and show all the haters October 19 your backside as you pull away from Clean out that freezer full of the pack at the Run Wild Missoula Diva game (lucky you) and chef up Day 5K run. This is for the gals only, an elk and dried cherry terrine for the so posse up, chicas, and show the Hunters Feed and Wild Game Cookdudes where the boys aren’t. Register Off in Ennis. Be warned, though: Your at dish may get a “meh” from a crowd General antelope hunting season begins. October 7 Crew up with your homies and take in the grandness of Big Sky Country during the 28-mile Wolf Creek Canyon Relay, which takes place in a canyon (duh) between Helena and Great Falls. Up to four team members per entry. Head to October 13 The Butte Bouldering Bash on the Boulder Batholith is alliteratively the best climbing competition Homestake Pass has to offer today, with “a wide variety of excellent problems from V0-V10,” according to the organizers. Strap on the mat, chalk up and do work! Visit Not to be confused with what happens at the Gathering of the Juggalos, the Yellowstone River Rats Jig N Crank Fest is a teambased walleye- and sauger-fishing contest. To learn more, fisherpeople should visit Fish, Wildlife & Parks online at

that has come to expect culinary craftiness at this 27-year-old event. Visit October 20 Opening day for the general deer and elk hunting season as well as the fall mountain lion season. Forget the energy goo and well-shorn legs, and just stomp on your cranks and tip-toe through the mud holes better than the next rider. Do this, and you may wind up with your name adorning the coveted ax trophy awarded to the top finisher at the Rolling Thunder Cyclocross in Missoula. Check out October 27 Attention runners with a sense of local pride: It’s time to make your region proud. It is time for the Montana Cup cross-country footrace. This year it takes place in Kalispell. Teams of men and women representing Montana’s seven biggest cities— Kalispell, Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Butte and Missoula—compete for the trophy and, more importantly, bragging rights. Visit

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Montana Headwall Page 54 Fall 2012


Courtesy of Montana Canvas

by Jack Ballard

the Snowcrests. My father finally deemed his youngest son worthy of initiation as a 15-year-old. Nearly 40 years later, there is no place I’d rather be than in elk camp. But “camp” is a term plagued with its own errant associations. For my crew, hunting camp has nothing to do with shivering all night in a sleeping bag rated for 10 below that scarcely fends the chill at 15 degrees, or worrying if a “four-season” shelter is really up for a foot of snow. We sleep comfortably on cots with logs smoldering in a wood stove gently heating the tent’s interior. We cook inside and eat at a real table draped with a red and white cloth (OK, it’s plastic). When my sweetheart first tentatively stuck her head in my deer-hunting camp east of Ashland, her green eyes widened like ripples on water after the rise of a trout. “Wow, this is just like a canvas cabin.” She perfectly described the wall tent in a single sentence. Buffalo hunters, prospectors and other early exploiters of Rocky Mountain resources often spent months housed in canvas tents. For hunters who take to the mountains in autumn—hell, for anyone who takes to the mountains in autumn—there is no finer shelter than a wall tent.


n the days before cell phone pics and online photo-sharing sites, nearly every household in America had its version of the picture album. Snapshots of weddings and family vacations filled the pages of these books, kept ostensibly to retain memories of bygone events and deceased relatives. But though visual and verbal recollections are assumed to be the most potent triggers of memory, psychologists recognize another, sometimes superior sense that sparks human memory. Smell, in certain contexts, can actually spawn more salient memories and associations from bygone decades than photos can. A storefront in the manufacturing and warehouse district east of downtown Billings has nothing to commend itself as natural. The parking lot is paved, a drab concrete sidewalk lists imperceptibly in the direction of a dusty street. But once inside I am immediately transported to a lofty ridge in Montana's Snowcrest Mountains. A grassy meadow slides away to a smattering of aspen groves and a tumbling creek. There are evergreen trees here, pines and spruce. I can hear the low hush of an autumn breeze in their branches. It is an experience repeated each time I catch a whiff of treated canvas. For over 50 years my family has maintained an elk camp in

Reliable Tent & Tipi ( began manufacturing awnings, irrigation fabrics, tarps and wall tents in Billings in 1945 as Reliable Tent & Awning. Initially, awnings and tarps used for agricultural purposes were the mainstays of the business. The company made a concerted push into the wall tent market in 2003, aggressively seeking to establish brand identity and capture significant market share. “We’ve grown about 30 percent since then and tents are a big part of it,” says Dave Nemer, company president. Along with wall tents, Reliable also manufactures yurts. A partner wood company crafts the frames; Reliable creates all the fabric components and insulation. They’re currently in the process of building two Goliath-size yurts measuring 40 feet in diameter. Some 40 to 50 yurts exit the doors of this Billings business each year. Online marketing, computer design and automated fabric cutting seem far removed from elk camp deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Yet it’s these contemporary business practices that allow Reliable Tent & Tipi to remain competitive in the national marketplace. “About 70 percent of our tents go to out-of-state buyers,” Nemer says. Many of those are marketed through an extensive dealer network in the western United States and Alaska. The Internet component of the business tends to be informational. “This isn’t a $100 fishing vest they’re buying,” Nemer says. “The average customer wants to call and talk about their purchase. At that point we have the chance to guide them to the best product for their needs.” Traditional, rectangular wall tents make up the backbone of Reliable’s product line. Standard models in their basic “Big Horn” line include an 8-by-10 tent that’s perfect as a solo camp

Jack Ballard

From top to bottom photos by Jack Ballard, Jack Ballard, Montana Canvas and Jack Ballard

or a cozy cabin for two, and a 16-by-20 monster that will easily house half-a-dozen hunters and their gear with plenty of room left over for cooking and poker. Prices start at $427 and reach $1,265 for the largest tents, with additional costs for bonus features like flooring and tiein screen doors. Wooden poles, commonly cut from standing dead lodgepole pines at the campsite, are historically used for pitching wall tents. Internal frames formed from metal tubing and joints make the job much simpler, and give hunters the flexibility to set camp in areas where natural materials are unavailable. Although an internal frame costs more than half as much as the tent itself, I wouldn’t be without one. Specialty tents, such as the hexagonal “Glacier” model, boast simpler setup with fewer poles than a traditional wall tent. All Reliable models can be customized to the buyer’s specifications, including such niceties as extra zippered windows, doors on either end, and custom stovejack placement. Some customers opt to have their initials emblazoned on their tent. New designs and automated fabric cutting have changed wall tent manufacturing since the

days when bolts of fabric were unrolled on the floor and panels were cut by hand. Nemer recalls his company's purchase of an automatic cutting machine in 2002. “It really increased our cutting accuracy. It also minimizes waste and reduces our production time,” he says. The machine is essentially a very long, wide table that flattens and holds canvas securely on the top by suction. A moveable, programmable head then runs over the tabletop, cutting the fabric to specifications fed from a computer. Reliable’s workforce of around 20 employees—some having more than two decades of experience with the company—varies in number depending on the season. During the busy season, which begins around the first of March and lasts until the end of October, there’s little down time. Employees stay busy stitching panels together to create tent walls, sewing windows into yurts, attaching grommets, bagging stakes and finally boxing tents for distribution and delivery. The product of their labor? A tough, portable shelter that helps keep hunters warm and dry when there’s 8 inches of snow on the roof and the mercury resides in the basement of the ice box.

Montana Canvas ( is

legal for use in California. (State statutes prohibit use of a stove in a tent that’s not been so treated.) A high-tech polyester fabric called Relite finds its way into a few specialty models. Relite is a bit lighter than heavy-duty 12-ounce canvas, and is more durable and easier to clean, but it lacks the natural breathability of woven cotton. Nonetheless, this space-age fabric creates yet another selling point for a company that artfully balances nostalgia and innovation. Futher advances come in the design features. The company’s ISQ wall tent (starting at $1,426) is a typical wall tent appended with individual sleeping quarters (hence ISQ) that jut from the main cabin like dormers. Heinert is currently redesigning the ISQ pods to reduce the tent’s overall footprint. Then there’s the company’s latest invention, a portable greenhouse (starting at $1,081). Constructed of reinforced vinyl, the greenhouse looks exactly like a wall tent, replete with zippered windows. It drapes over an internal frame, creating a functional greenhouse that can be set up and taken down with ease.

another longtime wall tent manufacturer and a major player in the national market. Over 20 years ago, Montana Canvas began supplying wall tents for an upstart sporting goods retailer called Cabela’s. They now produce tents for a host of nationally recognized sporting retailers including Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain. “We’re primarily a wholesaler,” explains company manager Curt Heinert, company manager. “About 80 percent or maybe a little more of our business is in wholesaling.” Located south of I-90 in Belgrade, Canvas employs 22 Montanans in a business with traditional roots and an eye for innovation. The heart of their business is producing standard, rectangular wall tents with a reputation for durability that range in price from around $900 to $1,900. For most hunting applications, a 12-by-14 wall tent is ideal. It will sleep four hunters with just enough additional room to house a modest camp kitchen. Montana Canvas tents of this size sell like snow cones at a midsummer state fair. I’ve seen these tents hold up for two decades of casual hunting. At a shade over $1,000, that works out to about 50 bucks per year for a canvas cabin that’s about as comfortable as a stay in a local motel. The company's wall tents are made of canvas similar to what was used in the 19th century— with key modern improvements. Before cutting for fabrication, the canvas is treated for waterproofing and mildew resistance. It also receives a fire retardant, making Montana Canvas tents

I can’t say I’m ever in one place long enough to care for plants in a greenhouse, but from autumn through early winter you’ll often find me bunking in a wall tent. Every hunter should have one. I have three: a 12-by-14 stalwart from Montana Canvas, a cute 8-by-10 from Reliable Tent & Tipi and one very old, very tired tent with a torn roof and three rodent holes in one sidewall. It’s shot, but I have no intention of turning it to trash. It still smells like elk camp. For that reason alone, I will always own a wall tent. Montana Headwall Page 57 Fall 2012

Kishenehn CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21 All of it—the countless dams, their Mount Rainier lodges, the snaking, grassy-banked channels—suggests an ancient beaver civilization. For untold centuries they’ve been building their beaver world here, unmolested in the farthest reaches of Kishenehn. Whether we’re contemplating beaver kingdoms, tracking lions or dodging grizzlies, Kishenehn is always an adventure— but never more so than that night of the November blizzard when I lost the trail. As I felt my way through the snowy darkness beyond Kishenehn Creek, I eventually reached the bank of the North Fork where fresh pieces of ice flowed past my headlamp beam. Cold crept under my jacket and I contemplated the possibility of bedding down for a frigid night in my emergency bivy. There was a faint ambient light from the moon above the storm clouds, above the troubles and life-and-death struggles of our world. You couldn’t really see things, but more sense their impressions. Then, somehow, I recognized the silhouette of a cluster of cottonwoods along the river. At that moment I knew I’d almost reached the cabin. Something about recognizing those trees in the night also showed me that in some small way I’d become a part of this place, that my story was now woven into the wild fabric of the landscape here. For millennia we humans lived in untamed, natural places like this. Until recent times, we were a part of the wilderness. We may not realize it, but its rhythms are still our rhythms, its wildness is still our wildness. We feel it when we return to places like this. Something relaxes, something is attuned, something comes alive. We’re home. Ben wasn’t at the cabin when I finally reached it. He was out looking for me, afraid I’d fallen in a creek or the belly of a grizzly. He’d found my tracks though, right after the tracks of a wolf that had suddenly turned around, likely when it heard me— the creature I was waiting for in my light beam. We told stories of searching and being lost far into the night over mugs of hot tea by the woodstove. Dark, snowy hikes aside, or maybe because of them, it was good to be back at Kishenehn.


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Montana Headwall Page 59 Fall 2012

The Crux CONTINUED FROM PAGE 62 nature is increasingly threatened by our species’ burgeoning containment strategies. Bears and the Pope may still shit in the woods, but for the rest of us it’s increasingly good policy not to. For us, there are Wag Bags. The Wag Bag, of course, consists of a wide-mouth plastic bag, a smatter of chemical pellets, a packet of tissue, a wet wipe, and a thick, sealable, plastic sack for socking it all away when you’re done. To this kit I’ve added the innovation of a square Tupperware bucket, which gives shape and a certain amount of breezeresistance to the receptacle sack, and an added layer of security. On river trips, I tuck the sealed Tupperware away in an old vinyl roll-top bag until I’m back home, where the Wag Bag can be deposited

Chad Harder

in regular municipal trash. How self-contained is that? I’ll be moving back to Missoula in a few days—the midwest can’t contain me—so I’m cleaning out closets and emptying the bed of the truck, conducting a fresh inventory of things in which

to put other things. There’s the cooler in which I’ll ferry refrigerator condiments back across country, the vacuumable Space Bags in which I’ll stash my airless clothes, the teardrop-shaped bag for my ping pong, racketball and tennis tools, the redundant new

rolling camera bag I picked up for a song at Goodwill, the padded guitar case, the garment bag, the toiletry bag, the ugly purple backpack full of fishing gear, the new expandable bike-rack trunk bag I bought to absorb the contents of two brittle old rubber saddle bags. That one’s got a little zippered compartment containing a draw-stringed waterproof bag for protecting itself from rain. That bag has got its ass covered. I’ll fill it all up and strap it all down and set off down the road. And though it’s not exactly en route, I may just swing through Duluth, Minnesota along the way and pick up that canoe pack. I don’t know what I’ll put in it yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll find something.

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111 S. 3rd W. • Hip Strip • 721-6056 Bikes - Tents - Camping - Paddling Montana Headwall Page 61 Fall 2012

Containment theory

by Brad Tyer


Your gear is only as good as the bag–or bags–you put it in happens that I move around the counhe other day I found myself sittry quite a bit—just in the last five ting on the floor of a wellyears I’ve lived in Missoula, Austin, stocked outdoor-gear store, surAnn Arbor, Anaconda, Bonner, and, as rounded by bags: three different styles of now, Oberlin. Every time I move, I and sizes of sleeping bag, each with its pack up all my gear and move it down own tiny nylon stuff sack, for hauling, and big cotton sack, for storage. I’d also the road with me. At this point I’m pulled off the shelf an array of sleeping bag liners: bags to At this I’m hardly put inside the bags. I was having a hard time deciding which bag I wanted, mostly at all. I’m because I hadn’t brought the waterproof dry bags in which moving things I planned to take my new sleeping bag canoeing, or the in. bicycle panniers in which I hoped to take it touring, or the hardly moving things at all. I’m moving backpack in which I might take it hikthings to put things in. ing. I wasn’t sure which bag would There are three bike bags, four conbest fit the bags I already had. figurations of Camelbak, six hardshell That’s when I realized I had a probPelican boxes, at least five waterproof lem. Outside the store, the sky was boating bags, and four sizes of backcrisp and blue and uncontainably big. pack (one of which includes a zip-off And I was inside under fluorescent daypack). That’s not to mention the lights shopping for the perfect bag. So I canvas book bag, the three camera could go outside. bags, the laptop satchel, a nylon My name is Brad, and I’m a conportage pack, and three duffels. Add tainer addict. three tents, each with its own pole bag I bike, I paddle, I hike if I can’t help and stake bag and compression sack, it, and the containing accoutrements and two sleeping pads (just bags for associated with these activities are air). Bags within bags within bags, starting to take over my life. It also


point moving things to put things

housed in a dozen lidded tubs, themselves entombed in a fiberglass truck topper, a rolling profusion of form awaiting content. And still I want more. Three years in a row now I’ve asked family members for a ridiculously expensive, canoe-classic, waxed-canvas Duluth Pack for Christmas. So far: no luck. Perhaps they think I have enough bags already. But how could anyone ever have enough bags? And what are we, really, if not bags of meat lumbering under an envelope of sky, thin sacks of skin containing cells otherwise indistinguishable from those we breathe and excrete? When we’re alone in the woods, or on the road, or on the water, the things we carry carefully stowed, we call ourselves “selfcontained,” proud of our self-imposed isolation even out of doors. Alas, we meatbags—unlike Pelican boxes and SealLine bags—spring regular leaks. In fact, we’re most nakedly and fully engaged with the outdoors— most uncontained—precisely when we’re squatting awkwardly in the wild, fertilizing the earth from which we sprang. But even this communion with Continued on page 60

Chad Harder

What beer do we drink when we’re done making beer? The one you’re about to enjoy in Shift. Canning this Nelson Sauvin hopped pale lager means everyone gets to reward their work. Or play. Or, if you’re like us, combine the two and surround yourself with drinking buddies. Clock out and crack open a Shift beer. You’ve earned it.

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Montana Headwall 4.3  

Outdoor Adventure Under the Big Sky