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FALL 2010


Three crazed fishermen seek a season finale with a bang.

WHAT SPOOKED SKOOK? When a pup won’t hunt, it’s time to birddog a cure.



Grub 36


The huckleberry’s purple reign


8 Head Trip 44

Head Lines 11

Views for two on Scotchman Peak

Lolo’s lost folks Death of a soul-seeker Bitterroots by the book

Head Out 48 Your fall recreation calendar

Head Gear 50

Head Light Go wide, young man 22

Montana rifles hit the mark

The Crux 58

Head Shots Our readers’ best 24

A treasured gun to trigger memories

Wild Things 34 Speedgoats on the range



Matt Gibson Lynne Foland Amy Linn Chad Harder Carolyn Bartlett Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis

Jack Ballard, Nick Davis, Jesse Froehling, Justin Karnopp,


Please recycle this magazine

Jason Wiener, David Merrill Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Alecia Goff, Tami Johnson, Teal Kenny, Steven Kirst, Chris Melton, Sasha Perrin Lorie Rustvold

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

Montana Headwall (ISSN 2151-1799) is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2010 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.

A gift for a girlfriend lands a hunter in antelope heaven.

Cover photo by Yogesh Simpson

Chad Harder


16 28 38




very summer, nature sets the table. Every fall, Montanans fill their plates. For many, it’s a rite. In hayfields and grassy meadows, high on the forested flanks of snow-capped mountains, or hidden in the ravines and gullies of the prairie, hunters stalk creation itself. It’s not the sort of stuff found in a thrill-kill perpetrated by slobs, because it takes effort and patience. Some hunters have spent years walking the ground, fording the rivers, feeling the frosty snap of a November morning on their faces, seeking the life of their quarry— with hope of invigorating their own. Not that you need to genuflect every time you glass a brow-tined

Chad Harder

bull elk in order to get the full effect. It ain’t church, and you should be w a r y o f a n y h o l i e r- t h a n - t h o u harangue about the “right way” to hunt or fish. But some ways certainly have advantages over others. Perhaps Montana Headwall can nudge you in an unexpectedly rewarding direction. The featured articles in this issue all seem to suggest that companionship is key. Whether it’s a sweetheart like Jack Ballard’s Lisa, who bags her first antelope in “Presents and Pronghorn,” or a young hunting dog like Skookum in Justin Karnopp’s “What Spooked Skook?” a choice hunting partner clearly makes a critical difference. While contemplating the impor-

tance of the season’s final trout, Nick Davis finds time to note the agreeable character of his cast-andblast compadres in “The Last Good Fish.” And Noël Phillips, who isn’t looking to fill a tag in “Thrill Peakers,” seems at least as intrigued by her new boyfriend as she is by the marvels of Scotchman Peak. But if you prefer solitude, you won’t find any argument here. Either way, in the moment when you squeeze the trigger or loose that arrow, you’ll be aware of only one other creature on earth. That moment commands us all, and demands reverence. Matt Gibson Editor-In-Chief



SCOTT MCMILLION McMillion has been a journalist in Montana for more than 20 years and is the author of the awardwinning book Mark of the Grizzly. He is senior editor of The Montana Quarterly and writes for a variety of publications around the nation on topics ranging from hunting ethics to fine art and gourmet food. You can see more of his work at


Jack Ballard An award-winning freelance writer and photographer from Red Lodge, Ballard has contributed articles to numerous outdoor magazines, including Wyoming Wildlife, Petersen’s Hunting and Camping Life. He is also the author of Elk Hunting Montana and Creating a Traditional Elk Camp (available at Although he travels extensively on assignments with his sweetheart, Ballard is always home for hunting season, and never lets an antelope, elk, sheep or deer tag go unused.


Noël Phillips Mistakenly born in California, Phillips finally found her home in 1994 when she moved to Montana. She is a personal trainer in Missoula and has written freelance articles for several regional publications. After she’s done kayaking, biking, hiking, climbing, dancing, running and torturing clients at ShapeShifters, Phillips likes to chill with a book, watch a movie or relax with friends in the park.


Justin Karnopp When he’s not producing mediocre outdoor television shows, Karnopp writes sappy country songs, pens a few magazine articles, designs fly patterns for the Idylwilde Fly Company, pesters various fish with sharp hooks, makes friends and then enemies in seedy bars across Montana, practices with his recurve, wrecks vehicles on foggy mountain roads, and shoots game animals in deep canyons and thick timber so he can pack them out and eat them. He lives in Missoula with his understanding wife, Lauren.

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Lolo Peak

Chad Harder



In a single week, four different parties on Lolo Peak call for rescue

Chris Spurgeon dies skiing Lolo couloir

On a single day this May, five people in three separate parties near Mormon Peak joined a club no one boasts about: the lost-inthe-woods club. None of them had a map, compass or GPS. Four days later, it happened again. Another two people got lost in the backcountry. All of the wanderers eventually emerged unharmed, thanks to cell phones, Missoula County Search and Rescue (MCSAR) volunteers, a St. Patrick Hospital Life Flight helicopter, and their own foot-power. In the Chopper pilots with night-vision goggles can aftermath, MCSAR has a motto to mention: spot cell phone screens 10 miles away. Be prepared. “You have to think before you leave, ‘What am I going to do if I get hurt up there?’” says MCSAR Chief Chris Froins. “You gotta bring some food, bring some clothing. You gotta stay alive.” Dispatchers received the first 911 call May 16 at about 1 p.m. from two people in search of the Mormon Peak Road trailhead, says Lt. Rich Mancelli of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department. As the pair looked for the trail—obscured by heavy snow—they ran into another lost explorer, then two more. MCSAR homed in on the group with the help of 911 operators, who can triangulate a caller’s location from cell phone towers. The sheriff’s department sounded sirens to help guide them out; a Life Flight helicopter hovered above them to show the way. More than six hours after the 911 call, all five people emerged unscathed.

Colin Chisholm and Chris Spurgeon spent two years talking about the dogleg of snow off the east ridge of Gray Wolf Peak. Chisholm says they hadn’t noticed it until their friend Brian Story made the first descent in 2008. After that, he and Spurgeon kicked themselves for failing to recognize a no-brainer line during previous treks in the Mission Mountains, and they dubbed it BS Gully in honor of Story’s revelation. The duo cut short one subsequent attempt at the couloir due to avalanche danger, but on June 12, Chisolm and Spurgeon finally scaled Gray Wolf with Brian Story and another friend. They picked their way down the hanging snowfield atop the eastern ridge, then dropped into BS Gully, finally realizing a mutual goal. “He was really psyched,” Chisholm says. “Gray Wolf Peak was one of his favorite places, and the Missions were one of his favorite mountain ranges.” The photos Chisholm shot that day show a confident and capable Spurgeon entirely at home on a snowy summit beneath a bluebird sky. Chisholm says he must have 300 pictures of Spurgeon from their nine years skiing the backcountry together. At the time, nothing about the BS Gully descent really stood out.

Continued on next page

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Four days later, another two people got lost near Mormon Peak while skiing or snowboarding, says MCSAR Assistant Chief Ben Ehlers. Ehlers responded to the scene but says both people found their way out on their own. The rescue efforts, of course, are time-consuming and costly. Life Flight search teams routinely rendezvous with rescuers on the ground to zero in on likely drainages before taking to the sky, says Larry Peterman, Life Flight’s head flight nurse. Once airborne, a chopper pilot with nightvision goggles can spot a campfire or the dim light of a cell phone screen from 10 miles away. “Saint Pat’s sees it as a service to offer this,” Peterman says. Although helicopter flights become very expensive very quickly, Peterman says St. Patrick Hospital eats the cost unless the lost person becomes a patient. He estimates that 1-in-10 end up hospitalized and, consequently, get a bill. The best way to avoid that outcome? Bring a map, a compass, a GPS, a cell phone. Be prepared for getting lost or injured, Froins emphasizes. “Even the most unprepared person can make a trip up and back just fine,” Froins says. “But people who are prepared can get hurt, too.” Jesse Froehling

“It definitely felt like we’d skied what we wanted to for the year and this was just kind of icing on the cake,” Story adds. Two days later, at the age of 37, Spurgeon died in a wet slide avalanche while skiing alone on a different couloir, off the summit of Lolo Peak. His fate remained a mystery until 9:30 a.m. June 18, following a two-day search and rescue operation that involved many of his friends. Chisholm, Story and two others found his body and sat vigil until Spurgeon Chad Harder could be flown out by helicopter. A cairn where Spurgeon was found The impact of the loss was for discovering new landscapes immediate. Spurgeon was quiet rather than conquering them. and introverted, yet Chisholm “Some people will keep a ski describes him as a role model journal and they’ll write down how among outdoor enthusiasts in many days they skied and then Missoula, an “irreplaceable partner and friend for many, many people.” they’ll talk about it,” says Chisholm. “Chris skied as much if That status stemmed primarily not more than most people, but he from his deep respect for the purity did not give a crap about numbers of the backcountry experience, Story says, and from his preference or defining himself in that way.

Montana Headwall

Page 12 Fall 2010

snow conditions and increasing “The mountains were Chris’s avalanche danger. spiritual life, they were his place An autopsy revealed of refuge and his place of soulSpurgeon—who hadn’t worn a seeking.” helmet that day—was killed Skiing wasn’t Spurgeon’s only instantly when his head struck a outdoor interest. He was an avid talus slope during a slide that hunter who trekked deep into the swept him some 800 feet. backcountry on his own for elk or It’s essentially a story that could deer. In 2004, he placed first in the happen to even the most experi20-mile Bridger Ridge Run north enced backcountry skier, and for of Bozeman and did the same in Chisholm, the persisting mystery the Devil’s Backbone 50-mile around Spurgeon’s final moments footrace in 2006. He also planned makes it difficult to find closure. to race in the 100-mile Swan Crest Run on July 30 this year. Chris Spurgeon, 1973-2010 He could have competed with the best professional athletes, but Story, for his part, remembers that flew in the face of his very a moment from the Gray Wolf trip. nature, Chisholm says. Bragging The group was discussing snow rights, first descents or making a Colin Chisholm quality—which Story and mark didn’t interest him. Spurgeon on Gray Wolf Peak two days before his death Chisholm agree was particularly “He didn’t participate in the skiing a steep, narrow chute in the poor that day—when Spurgeon weighed pissing contest. If these guys over here Lantern Lake couloir, northwest of Lolo in. As long as you’re skiing on snow, it’s are going to see who can piss the farPeak’s north summit. On the day he died, good skiing, he said. thest, Chris is going to turn around and the National Water and Climate Center That was his philosophy, Story says. walk and piss by himself. I just loved recorded the highest temperatures in the “That was his bar for it being worth that about him.” area all spring. Precipitation levels had going out.” The exact details of the accident itself increased in prior weeks, likely impacting Alex Sakariassen died with Spurgeon. He was killed while

Montana Headwall

Page 13 Fall 2010

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Montana Headwall

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Local author’s new guide puts climbers on top slippery stream crossings. (Hoyt, a tireless contributor to the mountaineering Web site, has made all the climbs himself). The landscape comes alive in glossy color photos of wildflowers and wildlife: calypso bulbosa on the

Getting more people high. That's the aim—in climbing terms—of long-time mountaineer Michael Hoyt and his book, Bitterroot Mountain Summits, published this spring by Stoneydale Press in Stevensville. The 384-page guide features every detail a beginner or intermediate might need to tackle more than 60 non-technical climbs to 50-plus summits in the Bitterroot Mountains. Chock-full of gorgeous photographs by Hoyt and his wife, Linda— who live in nearby Corvallis—the guidebook encourages the physically fit to stop thinking of peak-bagging as a superhuman feat. In Hoyt's view, they've been missing out on spectacular adventures—no capes required. Instead, Hoyt provides a wealth of information about some easy climbs and many more in the moderate-tostrenuous range. For each route, he gives the basics—class level, elevation gain, distance traveled—bolstered by photos, topo maps, route advice, historic tidbits and even tips about

Bitterroot Mountain Summits Michael Hoyt Softcover; Stoneydale Press $34.95; 384 pages Blodgett Creek trail, beard tongue by Mount Jerusalem, a pine marten. The text is also peppered with reality-checks, such as how many hours you'll be slogging (“expect it to take all day—a long day”) and the wisdom of turning back when things go wrong (“The mountains will still be there tomorrow”). Technical climbers already have their guidebooks, or shun them religiously. For the rest of us, Hoyt’s book is a welcome hand—with a lofty goal. Amy Linn

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Montana Headwall

Page 15 Fall 2010

Yogesh Simpson

s that a rock?” asked Big Al from the front of the boat. I squinted over Al’s shoulder into the tiny cone of light projecting from his cell phone, which, embarrassingly enough, was our only source of illumination as we felt our way downriver to a takeout already lost in the early night. A vague white smear arose from the edge of black water and, before I could reply, the boat bottom answered definitively as we glanced off the rock and swirled back into the dark current. LG spit a staccato burst of epithets from the rower’s seat. It was his drift boat, and though we hadn’t yet incurred any significant damage to his baby, it’s a generally discomforting feeling to be navigating moving water stone-blind. Told the story of three fishermen caught on a river after dark, most would assign the trio a combination of stupidity and inexperience. While all three of us suffer occasional bouts of the former, we’ve logged many thousands of river days collectively. This time, however, we’d fallen victim to the perfectly understandable desire to wring the most out of a season’s final day on the water. The lesson here is that when the sun drops out of the sky at the beginning of happy hour, you’d best carpe your diem, lest the tables turn and it’s the noctis seizing your sorry ass, instead.


or those who find peace and adventure in trout water, the onset of winter brings more than a metaphorical death. It brings the end of a fishing season that always seems to pass at a sadly tender age, with the same trout that just weeks ago savaged your fly now throttled down to refrigerated lethargy. It also triggers a rabid desire for closure, a proper send-off that for me has evolved into a quest for one last big fish. Feeling the girth of a winter-ready trout as it slides through my hands back into water dark with cold is the best way I’ve found to put a trout season to bed, and the memory of that last fish vanishing becomes a lifeline months later when the winter blues lock down hard. Two chief dynamics of late-autumn fishing give it most-favored season status among a certain subset of fly fishermen. The first is a matter of piscine biology. As water temperatures drop, the already highly-developed predatory instincts of big trout become sharpened by the need to pack as much energy (read: small fish) into their bodies as possible. Like the


Yogesh Simpson

Yogesh Simpson

much, as the case is still pending, but the bottom line is he went down for his right to guide in Chile. It’s always a pleasure to share a boat with a man of conviction. Big Al is probably the closest thing Missoula has to a man-about-town. He runs the taproom of a popular brew house and has so bewitched the general public that he’s been voted best bartender several years running despite demonstrating no ability as a mixologist. He’s also a great friend and a topshelf fisherman predisposed to chasing big trout. Our mission was clear. Late-fall trout fishing means casting big junk—streamer Yogesh Simpson patterns designed to trigger a fierce predatory reaction—tight to the undercut Out on the highway, the interior of anglers who pursue them, big trout need banks favored by huge trout. What this LG’s truck vibrated with a DJ mix of a little help through the long winters. style of fishing lacks in quantity of “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Run Like The second is a matter of cross-species Hell.” One might question the wisdom of strikes is usually more than compensated timing. Late fall marks the peak of blending Glen Campbell and Pink Floyd, for by the size of the fish involved. And waterfowl migration and, for fly fisherfrom a technical standpoint, streamer but the result was startlingly satisfying. men who also hunt ducks, it means fishing challenges even the most accomkeeping one eye on the water and one on LG is a Missoula fishing guide and budplished anglers. the air. In Montana, we call this I say this because, though dual-purpose outing the castI’d rate myself a solid third in and-blast, which may not be as The here is that when the that boat in terms of fishing sexy a title as ménage à trois, ability, I’m no piker either. And but given the choice, I suspect out of the sky at the so it was with no small a fair percentage of sportsmen amount of surprise that I would choose a big brown beginning of , observed Big Al slumped over trout/greenhead mallard pairin pain moments after I heard, ing over the Olsen twins. you’d best . as I powered a cast toward a In any event, neither a castsucculent bank, a sound not and-blast nor any type of yearunlike that of a hammer strikender looked possible for me ing a two-by-four. It seems Al’s melon ding fly-fishing film producer. He’s as last fall, thanks to a work schedule got in the way of my cast and the big fishy a guy as I know and possesses the loaded with crazy travel. But the undersplit-shot weight attached to the line just standing of a gracious wife and the avail- sort of oversized personality and sense inches above the fly squared him dead of humor that make every day on the ability of two of the best kind of fishing center in the back of the head. buddies (great fishermen and even better water with him a balls-to-the-wall affair. It’s a mortifying moment for any When the sample of an Iron Maiden company) prevailed. On the Saturday fisherman and damn near inexcusable song rose from the mix, LG casually after Thanksgiving we found ourselves for an experienced one. If I had buried mentioned that Iron Maiden played in rolling on I-90 to a section of a local river that hook instead of a chunk of lead into Santiago while he was imprisoned there obscure enough to warrant a vow of his head we’d have performed the sort of a couple years ago. He can’t talk about it anonymity from my fishing partners.

lesson sun drops happy hour carpe your diem

Nick Davis

Nick Davis

streamside operation no fisherman ever wants to be on either end of. The upside of the incident is that it afforded at least one memorable fishingrelated moment from the trip, because the fishing itself certainly failed to do so. Over the course of the afternoon Big Al drew three strikes and I two, eventually landing one rainbow that, though spirited and healthy, fell far below the threshold of a true season-ending fish. It could’ve just been an off day, but we concluded we had overshot the active feeding window by a week or two—that winter torpor had already claimed the fish of that river. It would’ve been a tidy story to say we made up for the poor fishing with a lights-out day of wingshooting, but the truth is my efforts in that area were on par with the day’s casting. As we made the turn around a bend in the river, a group of four mallards locked up over a downstream side slough and dropped to the water’s surface with back-fluttering wings. That sight will get any duck hunter’s blood moving and, being the only armed member on this excursion, I grabbed my 12-gauge, loaded it, and proceeded to put the sneak on. Some 60 yards out from the slough’s edge I dropped to a crouch and followed a line of tall grass to the point I had reckoned to be the optimal shooting spot. When I stood slowly, the water 20 yards away was barren of ducks. But out of the corner of my eye I saw an explosion that became a dozen northern mallards busting off the water about 45 yards down the slough. I put one shot on a bird still within reach of the Browning, missed cleanly, and then watched the flock climb above a line of cottonwoods into the late November sunshine, the green heads and orange feet of the drakes lit up like neon signs. Several hours later, we’d have paid a king’s ransom for one of those neon signs. The early sunset and the considerable amount of time I had spent chasing ducks set us behind, and the river’s hydrology did the rest. The bottom section of the float, which none of us had run in years, is a massive series of oxbow turns. At dusk we saw the pumphouse that marked our takeout in the distance and felt briefly cheered, but then entered the lateral madness of the river. When the light finally disappeared altogether the pumphouse appeared no closer. One of the last mid-river obstacles we could actually see revealed itself at close range as the bloated carcass of a bull elk beached on a gravel bar which, given the circumstances, we could have readily taken as a bad omen. Yogesh Simpson

I believe all of our missteps on this day were explainable—if not completely defensible—except for the lack of a light. Not one of us had brought anything more than a lighter. That’s when Al remembered the tiny light embedded in his phone, which provided some small measure of guidance. But it was LG’s sonar-like powers—several times he swung away from a rock or bank a split second before it entered the cone of phone-light—that were most responsible for our ultimately safe arrival.

reveal under threat of dismemberment and/or death from LG and/or Big Al. We spent the morning looking for ducks to jump and, to my great misfortune, we found several groups on which I would cleanly miss eminently makeable shots. The last flock of the morning couldn’t have presented a better stealth jump-shooting scenario had we drawn it on paper. We pulled into a high bank and 100 yards out at eye level a group of mallards milled about the near edge of a large slough. The ground between us was blanketed with tall prairie grass, so Al, who had finally had enough of my shenanigans and uncased his own shotgun, split off from me and we crawled through the grass commando-style, weapons leading. When we stood up on cue the birds took off as in slow-motion,

cast-and-blast may not be as sexy a title as ménage à trois, but I suspect a fair percentage


of sportsmen would choose a big

brown trout/greenhead mallard pairing over the Olsen twins.

ishing teaches you many lessons if you listen. Foremost among them are that you can never guarantee a favorable outcome, and that sometimes even really good fishermen have really bad days. With these homilies to salve the wounds, we could have let the ’09 trout season slip away in a clusterfuck of bad judgment and incompetence. But the value of perseverance is another of the many lessons. With the blessing of a slightly less understanding but still gracious wife, I stole another mutually free day two weeks later on the second weekend of December. The time for fishing freestone rivers now long past, we turned our sights to the northeast, to a tailwater fishery the name of which I cannot


at a nearly perfect range of 35 yards, and Al and I just watched as they receded, struck by nothing but the thin December sun. To this day neither of us can explain why we didn’t pull the trigger. Having taken our bird-hunting outing as far as it was apparently willing to go, we picked up and moved to different water, a semiobscure stretch I will refer to only If you want to fish with LG, a licensed fishing outfitter as Hall of the Titans, in order to in Montana, you’ll find him at protect my ass. We had time for If you want a guided cast-and-blast trip, you’ll need one short late afternoon drift, and an outfitter who’s licensed for both fishing and hunting. in the early going it seemed as if Ask a local fly shop or sporting goods store for recomwe’d be heading home, bowed once again. Then from my perch mendations or check with the Montana Outfitters and in the front of the boat I heard Al Guides Association, grunt, followed by the guttural For a trove of online info about fishing, hunting and more, sound of a big fish breaking the go to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, water’s surface. The two things And don’t forget the light for that drift boat. that make streamer fishing so goddamn sexy are seeing the fish flash toward your fly before the strike, and the deep sound of a big angry fish using its weight against you.


Continued on page 54 Montana Headwall

Page 21 Fall 2010

Broadened horizons

by Chad Harder


Shoot photos that leave viewers wide-eyed Imagine a photo assignment with a twist: You have to shoot an outdoor adventure ... but you can only use one lens. What do you bring? Forget about the heavy, expensive telephoto, or even the standard “multi-purpose” lens. For the one-glass-fits-all wilderness shoot, a wide-angle lens is the way to go. Instead of zooming in to a narrow field of view like telephotos, wide-angle lenses take it all in, sometimes capturing as much as 140 degrees. Perhaps most commonly thought to be useful for large group portraits, these lenses are even better suited for precipitous summit ridges, where they provide the depth and setting necessary to convey the voids to viewers back home. They’re an absolute must if you’re photographing a rope swing or half-pipe huckster—no other lens gives adventurers the necessary context. Hunters and anglers will find that wide-angles

The staff of Montana Headwall knows you’re out there, having wicked adventures and documenting your exploits photographically. Problem is, even excellent images often get dumped onto a hard drive, never again seeing the light of day. We’re ready to fix this tragedy by dedicating a few pages of every issue to our readers’ best photos.

effectively record monster bucks and cutthroat trout, letting them appear as big (and sometimes bigger) than you remember. That’s not to say this get-it-all glass doesn’t have its drawbacks. First off, you have to get close. Halfassed shooters unwilling to physically approach their subjects will wind up with endless frames of “Well, you can’t really see it, but that dark stumplooking thing is actually a bear.” Nope, wide lenses are not good for wildlife. Only a few species will tolerate the neighborly distances necessary to make the wide-angle sing. But when it’s possible, and the country is towering, consider backing off the zoom and hunkering down next to your foreground element, be it a freshly bagged mule deer, a lichen-covered rock or even that gregarious mountain goat. The resulting photographs will be widely regarded.

The criteria are simple: go outside, play hard, and take a bunch of pictures. Then send your best to Include your name, the location pictured, and the names of all people shown. We’ll take it from there. Now get outside and start shooting.

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Montana Headwall

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HEAD SHOTS Sarah Richey takes in the sunrise from 11,600 feet en route to her August ascent of Granite Peak from the Froze-to-Death Plateau. Dave Bell

A family strolls through the golden Norway maples in Missoulaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Greenough Park. Matt Rogers

John Meyer

Guinness the dog takes in the view from the summit of MacDonald Peak in the Mission Mountains.

Matt Gibson


have been both blessed and cursed with long-lived bird dogs. Keela, my first Brittany, was my sixteenth birthday present, and despite her devotion to making an enemy out of every living thing, she managed to survive to see her own sixteenth. The quintessential alpha female, Keela picked fights with other hunting dogs (a trait responsible for diminished invitations on group hunting trips), scrapped with coyotes, got roughed up by a bear cub that she provoked, killed one housecat that I know of, and largely hunted for herself, flushing birds well out of range and refusing to hold point or retrieve. Despite all this, she was a loyal friend and I lay the blame for most of her shortcomings on the dog-rearing skills of a teenager. I even took her to college with me.

Not long after I departed, my mom decided to get my dad a new Brittany pup for his own birthday. He’d formerly owned two Britts, but it had been years since they’d passed away, and now that Keela wasn’t at home, he needed a new hunting partner. I was enlisted to select the puppy from the litter, and relied on the opposite logic I’d used to choose Keela. I’d read in a training book that hunters should pick the most aggressive pup in the bunch, but this time I chose the quiet little one lying away from her roughhousing littermates. Quinn turned into the best hunting dog I’ve ever known. Since my dad had a real job and I didn’t—opting to be a fishing guide after a fruitless stint at school—she became my constant hunting partner on my unemployed autumn adventures. I was living in an apartment in Bend, Oregon, with an allergic girlfriend, which didn’t allow me to keep Quinn with me. But at least once a week I’d sneak up to my parents’ house in the wee hours to steal her and make a trip to one of the many Oregon rivers rich with upland birds—the Deschutes, John Day, Owyhee or Grande Ronde. Quinn had a split personality—a good one. When she was in the house or on a walk in the park she was passive and quiet; in the field she was energized yet efficient. Her nose rarely missed a bird and she was the most versatile and adaptive upland dog I’ve ever hunted over. With minimal training on my part, she learned to point ruffed grouse roosted in trees, cut off running pheasants and flush them back to me, work tightly and quietly when hunting quail and Huns, and freeze nervous chukars from a distance, allowing me to get within range before flushing them. At age three

she up-and-decided to start retrieving, and took great pleasure filling my bird bag every day we hunted together. Quinn and I chased birds in the steep, basalt canyons of Oregon until she was 10. When I moved to Missoula in 2005 my dad told me to take her with me, so she could enjoy her latter years in the more subtle terrain of ringneck country. Quinn, bless her soul, passed away this past winter and set the bar pretty high for both friends and bird dogs. Bird hunters tend to be as loyal as their canine counterparts when it comes to devotion to a breed. Lab guys will always own labs; English pointer guys will always run pointers. There are exceptions, of course—hunters who play the field, continuously searching for a breed with the perfect traits to suit their game and lifestyle. I fit in the former category. My dad ran Brittanies when they were still classified as “spaniels,” before the powers-that-be realized the error. Britts are pointing dogs; spaniels are flushing dogs, a different style of hunting. Enter Skookum, my latest Brittany, my hunting partner for the next decade. If everything goes as planned.

Mike Mickelson

ike many couples, my fiancée and I decided that we needed to start our future with a puppy, a sort of readiness test for parenthood (all inferred hesitancy intended). Lauren’s miniature schnauzer, Roxy, was six, too old to be practice material. Quinn had hunted her last full season and I’d had to retire my favorite bird dog to a life of short walks and lounging around the house, a transition she adjusted to more easily than me. By spring, Lauren found a liver-andwhite Brittany online in Columbia Falls.


Matt Gibson

Matt Gibson

rushed the wing when told to. She also as the dog breathed laboriously on I’d always owned the more traditional exhibited a natural retrieving instinct. By Lauren’s lap. By the time we reached the orange-and-white variety and was hesifall, she seemed ready for the real thing. animal hospital, Skookum’s lungs were so tant, but Lauren insisted we drive up In late October I took her on a prongfull of blood that the veterinarian conduct“just to take a look”—and I knew horn antelope hunt near Miles City with ed an immediate transfusion, using her damned well we were coming home my dad, my friend Erik, his dad, Dick, own dog as the donor. All we could do with a puppy. their two Pudelpointers (a poodle-pointwas go to a hotel and wait for news the There were two dogs left in the litter, er mix), and two of Erik’s buddies. The next morning about whether Skookum an orange-and-white male and the little country is good for Hungarian partridge had survived. brown-and-white female with the irreand sharp-tailed grouse, and I figured Somewhat miraculously, she pulled sistible face. She was the product of an Skook might get her debut once we got a through, and now has one-part Labrador accidental rendezvous between a highly few pronghorns on the ground. acclaimed sire and wellOn day two, I was driving papered bitch. At $400, she also Other than the standard with my dad and Erik to the came at a fair price, so we paid top of a wheat field to glass for the man and took her home. pronghorns when a covey of Lauren and I got married antics, she hadn’t Huns slipped across the road four months later at a family into a patch of wheatgrass. cabin in Oregon’s Blue exhibited any exceptionally We parked the truck. My dad Mountains, and it was then and Erik circled around with that life with Skookum got maneuvers—until Erik’s veteran dogs, leaving interesting. Other than the Skookum plenty of room standard boots-eatin’ antics, she attempted to take her own to work the covey alone. she hadn’t exhibited any She worked beautifully out exceptionally destructive the day after our . in front of me like a veteran maneuvers—until she attemptherself. It didn’t take her long ed to take her own life the day to pick up the scent. She zigafter our wedding. Actually, zagged through the tall grass and locked blood in her veins. The vet cautioned us she probably ate the D-Con rat poison up on point. I was ecstatic at her work; that she’d probably never be athletic, the day of our wedding, but it wasn’t now the pressure was on me. The bird and advised us to keep her as sedentary until the following day that we realized flushed and gave me an easy shot up and as possible. We tried and, of course, something was wrong. to my right—which I promptly missed. I failed miserably: there’s no way to keep Her usual boundless enthusiasm was could blame it on the borrowed shotgun, a Brittany from running. So we let her gone. She lay listless, and when we but the magnitude remained. Her first live out her puppyhood naturally—and picked her up, she let out a horrible point-and-flush, and I’d blown it. she fully recovered. squeal. Fortunately, one of my groomsAs the rest of the covey erupted, I Skookum’s basic training the rest of men quickly diagnosed the problem after aimed to redeem myself, but the Benelli the summer went well. She pointed inspecting her gums, which were pale autoloader misfired. Skook kept workbeautifully when I cast a pheasant wing white. ing the ground; I marveled at her skill on the end of a fly rod, a training techWe contacted my veterinarian cousin and thought how fortunate I was to en route home from the festivities, and she nique that teaches the dog to hold its have lucked into such a natural hunting point and refrain from rushing at the made phone calls until she found a vet dog. It was so satisfying I nearly forgot bird. After an hour of work five nights a willing to save our dog on a Sunday about the cursed jammed shotgun in week, she learned to hold her points evening in nearby Walla Walla, my hands. with the “whoa” command and only Washington. I sped down mountain roads


destructive life

Mike Mickelson


Dick said. “I took him to the trap range, front—and intercept it we did. We Erik’s dogs, meanwhile, had found a arrived, exited the truck, inhaled the thirbunch of sharpies, and Skookum raced off stood at a distance, and gave him a biscuit. Eventually, I moved closer and closer ty-below and headed home with plans to to join my friends in wait at the bottom of to the shooting until he just got used to it. try again the last weekend of the season. a coulee. As birds poured down the draw, “Just casually reintroduce her to ranThat day was T-shirt weather by comthe hunters opened fire, repeatedly shootdom gunshots for awhile when you’re parison, and we hit the field. Skook was ing 12-gauge autoloading shotguns. out doing fun stuff, and she’ll come overzealous at first. It took a low-voltage When the shooting stopped I called around,” Dick said. zap from her training collar to remind for Skook. My friends gave me the Firing a starter pistol in the house when her we weren’t out there to marvel at her thumbs up and pointed toward their I feed the dogs in the morning—which is speed: she needed to stay within shootfeet, indicating she was with them. But ing range. Conditions were when I called for her she tough. Week-old crunchy snow wouldn’t come. It was odd for I walked to the to investigate. announced our footfalls and her to disobey me. I walked to high winds had matted down the coulee to investigate. And there was Skook, cowering by And there was , cowering most of the holding cover. The few birds we did see flew well their boots, shaking like she’d out of firing range. just endured an air raid. by their boots, shaking like she’d just I was so determined at this It was a long walk back to point to get Skook a bird, I the truck. endured an . decided to buy her a few. Mike I’d shot my .22 pistol near Mickelson of Rooster Ridge Skookum all summer and it often before my wife wakes up—would Pheasant Preserve in Missoula made me hadn’t bothered her, so I was dumbmost certainly freak out Lauren’s diminua great deal on his pen-raised variety. He founded. Her fear was completely unextive schnauzer. I opted for Dick’s advice. met me on the preserve and even volunpected. And I, the happy hunter just a teered to take photos of what was sure to few minutes ago, was now faced with be Skookum’s first successful day. heartbreak. How had I become the Not long into our walk on the owner of a gun-shy dog? ver the next several weekends I preserve, Skook locked up on-point. The Not only did I have plenty of time and took Skookum on romps and occarooster flushed, I dropped it, and turned money invested in Skookum, but I also sionally shot my .22 pistol. When she

coulee Skook

air raid


Mike Mickelson

dearly loved her and envisioned her as my longtime partner in the field. Like a parent who had just witnessed his kid blow an ACL, I feared the worst for her future as the athlete I so desperately wanted her to be. It was impossible to avoid the issue on the drive home. “Have you ever owned a gun-shy dog?” I asked Erik. He hadn’t. “But the breeder I bought my pups from fires a starting pistol when he feeds his pups,” he offered. His father had a different approach. “My dog Cooter was gun-shy as a pup,” Montana Headwall

seemed used to the sound, I decided to try her in the field again, during the last weeks of the pheasant season. Late-season roosters tend to be spooky, opting to stay on the ground and run. This is not ideal bird behavior for a young pointing dog: there’s no immediate reward for pointing a bird that runs off. What you want instead is a bird that holds tight, then flies. Still, forecasters predicted a cold snap, and that can make birds hold longer. I took Skookum to Choteau with a friend to intercept the December cold

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Matt Gibson

to see Skook’s reaction. She looked apprehensive, came over to investigate the bird, and wouldn’t pick it up. She posed just long enough for her first birdin-hand photo. On the next bird a few minutes later, she had clearly lost her enthusiasm and seemed to be anticipating the loud bang. She never did find the planted bird, and when it flushed at my feet I let it fly off a bit before putting it down. That was it for Skook. She went to my heels and sheepishly walked with me to the bird

with her tail between her legs. By the time we looked for the third bird she was clearly terrified and I saw no point in shooting when we kicked the pheasant out of the brush.

t’s not such a bad thing to take a few steps back with a dog. For months now, that’s what I’ve done with Skookum, taking her on forays into the woods and shooting a pistol to get her comfortable with the noise. All has gone well. Skook, meanwhile, has developed into an extremely athletic little dog. There are times when her dumbfounding speed, tireless energy, intelligence and inquisitiveness even remind me of Keela, with a few key caveats. On recent “walks” near Blue Mountain in Missoula, Skook has evaded tragedies that Keela would have pursued to the end. On the first near miss, she disappeared into a willow patch and started yipping horribly. I called her and she emerged on the edge of a field nearly a furlong ahead of a pursuing coyote, which only gave up the chase when it saw Lauren and me. Skook fled


to safety when the encounter turned ugly; Keela would have fought the coyote to the death. On another walk in the wilds a few days later we heard Skook yelp again, and came around the corner to find her face-to-face with a cow moose. The moose stomped her front feet and lowered her head, and I thought we were about to witness bloodshed. I screamed at Skook and she raced away just as the moose was getting ready to trample her. Keela would have ignored me: she relied on her toughness to pull her through. Skookum knows when to listen and when she needs help. In that way, Skook is most like Quinn. At the moment of truth, her desire to please overrides her curiosity; she trusts us when we call her back from the brink. It’s Skookum’s strong desire to please that keeps me hopeful. Not only will it help keep her alive, but I’m betting it will also help her trump her fear of guns, once she realizes how much I love to bird hunt. She really has no choice, because I’m not giving up on her. And, gun shy or not, she’s my bird dog.

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WILD THINGS by Andy Smetanka

We call them pronghorn antelope. The laugh’s on us. orth American fauna is plagued with misnomers. To be fair, the first English speakers to land on the continent had their hands full naming a host of unfamiliar species before anyone even thought about venturing farther west. Many of these appellations—skunk, raccoon, moose, opossum, woodchuck—they simply adapted from Native American words, and when that fund ran out the first settlers named new animals, often quite erroneously, after Old World species to which they bore a passing resemblance. So it is with the pronghorn antelope. First brought to scientific attention by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Antilocapra americana is the sole surviving member of a once-thriving family of even-toed North American ungulates—and not actually an antelope at all. To his credit, Clark called the animal he first noticed in South Dakota “a Buck Goat of this Countrey,” adding that it merely resembled an African antelope or gazelle. It was Lewis, apparently, who started calling the thing an antelope. In any event, the name stuck (though in some places pronghorns are evidently known as “speedgoats,” which definitely gets my vote if the matter is ever settled by popular ballot). In fact, the pronghorn is more closely related to the giraffe and the okapi, both native to Africa, than to either goats or true antelope. Unlike African antelope, pronghorns shed their horns—which, uh, are not technically horns, consisting of a bony core and a black, keratinous sheath that falls off each year. If the naming situation lacks a certain urgency for reform, it’s probably because the pronghorn does share at least a few qualities with the African antelope. It fills a similar ecological niche, for one. Asking the antelopes’ opinion isn’t easy, either: you’d have to catch one first. Pronghorns are lightning-fast, often cited as second only to cheetahs for swiftness, but in fact capable of sustaining higher speeds than the cats. For all their speediness, though, they make lousy jumpers, preferring to shimmy under barbed wire fences, even when running all-out. This peculiarity has prompted advocacy groups in parts of the West to push for barb-less bottom strands in barbed wire fences, or for removing the bottom strands entirely. Another pronghorn trademark—in common with true antelope—is the distinctive bouncing gait called pronking or stotting. Pronking on all four legs simultaneously is slower than running, which suggests a poor adaptation to high-speed predators. But it may actually be a form of boasting, advertising the animal’s fitness—a little like an NFL running back deliberately slowing down for the last five yards. It is this behavior, the showboating, which arguably speaks most clearly to the pronghorn’s commonto-this-country, fundamentally American qualities.


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Montana Headwall

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GRUB by Ari LeVaux

A huckleberry in the mouth is worth two in the bush Rohanna Erin

Huckleberries are as much a part of Montana’s identity as summertime floats and arguments about wolves. The yen for a huckleberry milkshake slows down many a road trip, and tourists everywhere can be counted on to stop and buy everything from huckleberry syrup and candy to huckleberry honey, beer, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, soaps and lotions. The products are good, but few can compare to the thrill of a fresh, unadulterated huckleberry. The complex flavor is more sweet than tart, with mysterious, hard-to-name nuances that evolve as the season progresses. I know a guy who doesn’t make it into the woods very often, but nonetheless measures the passage of summertime with a weekly purchase of huckleberries from the Saturday farmers’ market. He takes a bag to a downtown establishment that blends the contents into a shake. He says the drink gets sweeter every week. But such armchair assessments can only take you so far. By the time the frost begins falling on the autumn-red huckleberry leaves, the berries have an almost fizzy flavor that I call huckleberry cola. These frosted berries might have cost me an elk or two, thanks to the hours I’ve spent with my gun against a tree, turning my face purple. Indeed, getting waylaid by huckleberry bushes is one of the great joys of the Montana high country, and many a hiker

changes plans after stumbling on a good patch. Water bottles get dumped; oatmeal and trail mix get combined to free up cargo space for the purple plunder. Unfortunately, by the time the haul reaches the car the next day, those berries are not what they used to be. Consequently, I don’t try to take any out. For me, what happens in the huckleberry patch stays in the huckleberry patch. I may carry some back to camp for pancakes the next morning, but when it comes to collecting massive quantities for the freezer, I’m happy to leave the picking to the experts (whether the human or the ursine variety). Given how long it would take to pick and clean a pail, and considering the tight window of time before berries start to go south, it’s worth it to me to pay $20 for a gallon at the farmers’ market. I’ll bring them home, separate them into quart bags, and freeze them. Spending $100 this way might seem extravagant, but after you factor in the costs of gas and your time—and the fact that unless you’re in the know, you won’t find the truly stupendous patches—it’s often cheaper to buy. Plus, buying huckleberries from pickers helps support an industry that depends on the forest. And the more revenue our forests can generate with the trees vertical, the better.

If you do decide to go out and get your own stash, make sure to have a cooler full of ice in the car. Pack the berries carefully so the cold can reach them all quickly, but they aren’t crushed by the cubes. Most serious huckleberry hounds use some kind of device to rake the bushes. (I recommend the tool from It has soft, rounded teeth that won’t grab onto branches.) There is some debate over whether this kind of harvesting hurts the bushes, but it’s hard to imagine the rakes causing any more damage than a bear doing something similar with its claws. Speaking of which, it’s a good idea to bring bear spray on your picking adventure. For me, a serendipitous backcountry encounter with those magical cola huckleberries is the only way to go. When I find them, there’s no worry: I’m secure in the knowledge I’ve got a stash of berries from the market waiting in the freezer to satisfy all of my wintertime pie, muffin and smoothie needs. Besides, the frost-kissed berries are too fragile, and sometimes they’re shriveled and a bit dry. They’d never survive the trip back to town, and can only be enjoyed in the moment, off the bush. Enjoy them I will, without a care for the future.

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Montana Headwall

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by Jack Ballard


Presents and Pronghorn Antelope, rifles and other gifts of the heart


rowing up as one of many siblings on a family ranch impacts oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life in many ways. Beyond acquiring an overly compulsive work ethic, learning how to cram six children and two adults into a 1969 Dodge Polara, and developing a keen appreciation for fresh milk, eggs and meat, other, subtler factors influenced my being. Take birthdays for example. Entering the world less than a week before Christmas has its disadvantages, espe-

cially in a family where the mother toils 14 hours a day to manage her share of the ranch work, tailors shirts from scratch and feeds a clamoring horde of youngsters without the aid of Chef Boyardee or a microwave. My birthday, always combined with Christmas, was lost in the shuffle. The last memorable birthday present on the ranch west of Three Forks came around the ninth anniversary of my untimely arrival. It was an oil-fired lantern with a broad, woven

wick and shiny blue paint, an eminently practical present for a boy who did his after-school chores in the dark on the abbreviated days of winter. Sometimes there was a cake, sometimes not. A keen anticipation of Christmas more than compensated for the lack of celebratory zeal related to my birthday as a child, so I was mystified later in life when adult friends informed me that birthdays ought to spawn the most heartfelt festivities of the year. The

excitement continues to elude me. I have no day-to-day sense of my actual age. When asked, I usually stop to calculate the span on earth based upon my birth year. More problematic is my seemingly ceaseless inability to remember the requisite cards and presents expected to accompany the birthdays of others, a factor that has frequently sullied past romantic relationships. In the tradition of Freudian projection, laziness

Jack Ballard

immediately dialed her number. “What are you doing in October?” “The usual. Hiking, writing ... why did you call at this hour to ask about my schedule three months from now?” “Better add antelope hunting to the list.” Jack Ballard

or sheer neglect, my three children also suffer from my boredom with birthdays. They usually get a phone call, sometimes a card. Always they have a present or two, but the items are seldom offered on the “real” day of their birth and less frequently wrapped. I guiltily confess the same pathetic pattern with my sweetheart. Last spring, in celebration of her birthday, I gave her a hunting rifle the week of April Fools’ Day. After graciously accepting the gift, Lisa sweetly reminded me that she had never hunted big game and her birthday is in late May. But she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the silvery .308 Marlin Express leveraction and its sleek Alpen scope that seemed to beg for a shot or two. I scattered a few cans around our picnic spot, and Lisa—the New Hampshire half of our long-distance relationship— shouldered the rifle and sent thin tin soup receptacles hurtling through the air like a veteran. Then her deep green eyes turned fixedly on the gift-giver. “You’ve given me a rifle for my birthday,” she said. “Now you have to take me hunting.”

hough Lisa’s annunciation of “birthday” seemed strained and slurred, “have to” reverberated in my ears as clearly as the commands of my hawk-like, austere grade school principal. That evening, at home in Billings, I filled out her application for a nonresident antelope tag, fervently hoping the “have to” might also sway the special-licensing gods that


and my two sons. Bingo. But those were the easy, resident drawings. With some trepidation my quivering fingers typed Lisa’s ALS (Automated Licensing System) number onto the Web page, which had a herd of 13 mule deer arrayed in a banner across the top, the number of animals doubtlessly chosen by a designer with a sly, sick sense of humor. But bad

She seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the silvery

.308 Marlin Express lever-action. “You’ve given me a rifle for my

birthday,” she said. “Now you have to take me hunting.” moodily brood over the Fish, Wildlife and Parks computers in Helena. In truth, the prospects of sharing an antelope hunt with her seemed as far-fetched as a weekend getaway to a private tropical island. Around mid-July I went online to check the antelope drawing results for myself

omens in Montana license drawings evidently don’t apply to pretty girls from New England. The moment I clicked the “get status” button, another page cycled onto the screen with the blessed words, “successful, 2009 antelope license.” Though it was nearly midnight in New England, I Montana Headwall

he drive in mid-October, aimed at the scattered parcels of public land northwest of Broadus, acquaints Lisa with the various savory routines that accompany a trek to the antelope pastures. We stop in Hardin for a Wilcoxson’s ice cream sandwich, carefully motor through Busby, and scan the roadside for not-so-streetwise mongrels, spotting only two canine highway fatalities. Then it’s on to Ashland, with another requisite stop for gummy worms and a pint of sweetened ice tea. Some 20 miles farther east on Highway 212, we veer north at Pumpkin Creek Road, stopping a couple of times en route to glass wild birds and distant ungulates. Through it all, Lisa’s lively green eyes dart curiously over the novel landscape of pancaked prairie prickled with yucca and sagebrush, punctuated with protrusions of soil and stone into whose bowels the steely roots of long-needled pines burrow for nutrients and moisture. Her fingers twine in mine. She asks questions and offers commentary, none of it directly related to killing an antelope. Many men speak of hunting


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Jack Ballard

primarily as a means for a greater appreciation of the world outdoors. Women, I think, are more prone to actually feeling it. “Those are deer, aren’t they?” “Yup.” More accustomed to the shorter-eared whitetails of the East, Lisa has spied a considerable herd of mule deer with their namesake appendages jutting from their heads. Two small fawns turn ears that seem larger than their diminutive gray bodies toward our slowing vehicle. As we stop, a magnificent buck, with antlers that spread beyond the fuzzy tips of his hairy hearing aids, strides to the crest of a berm in the hayfield. It’s a sight I’ve seen hundreds of times, but it never fails to stir my senses with the wonder and vigor of autumn, when hoofed mammals are fat and sleek from summer’s bounty, tracking through a world of crimson skunk brush, radiant yellow ash trees and flaxen grasses, oblivious to the coming lean months of winter. Though other hunting companions sometimes become impatient with my penchant for parking to observe animals other than our quarry, Lisa stares delightedly at the curious herd. After many long moments Montana Headwall

Page 40 Fall 2010

it is I who suggest we motor up the road in search of antelope. We spy a smattering of pronghorn, all on private land. An unbroken canopy of bloated gray clouds sags nearer the earth, dimming the landscape. Then, as if on cue, a herd of some 60 antelope trots across the road in front of us, drifting from private land on the east side of the road to a block of state-owned real estate on the west. Easing the Tahoe into the barrow-pit, we wait until the last animal crests a ridge that takes them from sight. Then Lisa uncases her rifle, and we ease the doors closed with scarcely audible clicks. When we gain a vantage point to view the prairie ahead, I can see the herd is well out of range, still drifting westward. Our chances of overtaking it with sufficient light to shoot are slim. Ready to turn back toward the road, movement on the

periphery of my vision swivels my eyes down a broad ravine. Like a tan and white apparition, an antelope buck appears, walking in the same direction as the departed herd. It’s a scant 150 yards away, well within range of Lisa’s rifle and abili-

antelope. It halts to gaze in our direction as Lisa brings her rifle to bear on the twotoned body, an easy shot at a standing animal. “Let it go,” I whisper, explaining my misgivings. “We’ll find another one tomorrow.”

shoot ... now,” I whisper urgently, knowing the buck will bolt at any moment. “You need to

ty. But as we prepare for the shot, doubt arises. Something about the animal is not right. Though there’s no apparent wound on its body or noticeable limp, the buck seems a bit sickly, its strides lacking the ease and grace of a healthy

By the time we reach Broadus, amber light flickers from street lamps whose enthusiasm for the night shift seems about as dim as that of a veterinarian rung from midnight slumber for a calving session. We idle down the main drag, looking for

Montana Headwall

lodging and restaurant. A typical mom-and-pop motel appears with a “vacancy” sign in the window. The route bends south at a stoplight. Near the outskirts of this snippet of civilization, a dozen mud-spattered pickups, a handful of tired automobiles and a shiny Buick are parked outside what appears to be the popular eating establishment. “Do you think I look okay for dinner?” asks my Dartmouth graduate, glancing with concern at her grubby jeans, dirt-caked hiking shoes and brown quilted vest she earned as a master’s national skiing champion. “You’re perfect,” I reply with conviction. We take a table inside. A matronly waitress with red lipstick and an easy smile drops two menus on the table. “Would you like something to drink?” Lisa orders a glass of red wine.

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It’s been a fine day. I’m a fortunate fellow. Pushing the envelope of cosmic favor, I ask if they have any dark ales or porters on tap. “What’s that?” our server responds. “Beer.” “Oh, yes, we do have beer on tap. Why didn’t you ask? Bud and Bud Light. Could I bring you one of those?” she asks sweetly. Whatever my luck, it’s obviously run out. I replicate Lisa’s request for red wine. Lisa seeks my opinion on the culinary offerings, something I can’t recall her doing on any of the several occasions we’ve dined in downtown Manhattan (New York, not the Gallatin Valley). I advise her to stick with beef and avoid seafood. “What’s a hamburger steak?” “A thick, rectangular patty of ground beef cooked like a steak,” I reply, pleased to expand my sweetheart’s knowledge of cuisine. Later, at the motel, the stout, dour proprietress confirms the availability of a room. “Turn the TV down,” she shouts into the living quarters behind the counter where a couple of kids are staring at the tube. “Ain’t smokers are ya?” “Nope.” “Got any pets? We don’t take no animals and there’s a cleaning charge if you sneak one in.” “No pets.” The room is nondescript, but very clean. In less time than it normally takes to fall asleep, the

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alarm is chirping. Outside, the eastern sky glows faintly as we hop into the chilly rig and putter across the street for two cups of hot, honest coffee and a box of doughnuts. Aided by caffeine and the vehicle’s heater, my metabolism comes to life as we wind our way back to the area where we spotted the antelope the previous evening. Around midmorning, I spot a herd bedded near the base of a butte prickled with ponderosa pine, its sides striated with several deep ravines. Napping on a section of state land, the animals are in a perfect place for a stalk. I turn the vehicle back down the dusty road and park out of their sight. I look at Lisa. A smudge of powdered sugar whitens her lower lip, begging, it seems, for a kiss. While I’ve been looking for antelope, she’s eaten the last doughnut. I part the barbed wire near the “walk-in only” sign on the fence, pressing one strand down with a boot, elevating another with my hand. Lisa slips through the opening. I hand her rifle across the rusty top wire. We hike westward, happy to stretch our legs on the hard prairie. Keeping below a bulge in the butte we reach a vantage

Jack Ballard

point about 250 yards above the resting antelope. Then I make my first blunder. Lisa is as natural a marksman (marksperson?) as I’ve ever seen, but I fail to remember that hitting targets or piercing cans on a range isn’t the same as shooting a live animal, and the span of this shot is considerable for a

novice shooter. Lisa trains her rifle on the black-horned buck at the edge of the herd, exhales slightly and fires, missing cleanly. Unaware of our position, the antelope bolt in a blur, then stop, heads twisting in all directions. “Should I try again?” “No.”

We watch the pronghorn trot in a large circle. For several long minutes they stand, then one by one settle to earth. When a last vigilant old doe takes her bed and begins grinding her molars, I carefully mark their position. We retreat, then swing around the back of the butte. Scaling its steep shoulder brings a burn to my legs, but haste is in order. Reaching the summit, we spy the bedded antelope, then quickly slip into a ravine that obscures our approach. Easing around the end of a bulge in the butte’s base, the antelope come into view, a scant 80 yards away. Rifle resting on a bipod, Lisa aligns the crosshairs on the buck as it rises and turns to stare in our direction. “You need to shoot ... now,” I whisper urgently, knowing the buck will bolt at any moment. At the shot, the does sprint to safety, but the buck stays behind, dispatched more swiftly than a fly flattened by a swatter. Lisa is shaking slightly from an overdose of adrenaline, smiling and very happy. After admiring the silky coat and twin pronged horns of the buck, Lisa notches her tag, but lets me gut her prize. We hike to the road, retrieve a game cart from the vehicle, then return to the Continued on page 55

Thrill Peakers

by Noël Phillips


Why climb a mountain with a new boyfriend? For the upside.


tarting a relationship is a lot like deciding to hike in a new area. Will the path be rocky or smooth? Will it be stormy or calm? Is it going to be spectacular and fun, or tedious and grueling? What tools will I need? And, ultimately, will it be worth it? Barely three months into a budding relationship, I decide to find out the answers. “Where is this place?” My boyfriend, Jason Kannberg, sounds skeptical when I float the idea of a trek up Scotchman Peak. “Northwest of Missoula, um, up past Noxon,” I answer, somewhat lamely. At

the time I first mention the trip, I don’t know much more about it than that. “You can see Lake Pend Oreille from one of the peaks,” I offer. I’m laid back about the backcountry—I show up at a trailhead and hope for the best. Even the best-made plans can go awry, so I usually just stick to a general idea—a vague impression of where to go and what to do. But I want this trip to go well. And since I have no answers to Jason’s follow-up questions about the hikes, trail conditions and distances, I realize I’d better bone up on my facts to help convince him

to go. If he agrees, it will be our first time hiking in the mountains together. Actually, it will be our first time hiking anywhere together. “I’ll get more info,” I promise. A quick Internet search fills me in on the basics. The Scotchman Peaks proposed wilderness area, I find out, is an 88,000-acre roadless stretch of dense timber crowned by craggy peaks in the Cabinet Mountains. The 7,009-foot Scotchman Peak itself, one of the highest summits in Northern Idaho, rises nearly a vertical mile above Lake Pend Oreille, promising

a rewarding view. The region overlaps Montana and Idaho in the Kootenai National Forest, home to grizzlies, black bears, bull trout, wolves, Canada lynx and mountain goats, among other fauna and flora. The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, a nonprofit group with almost 3,000 members, fervently advocates for a permanent wilderness designation to protect the area. Most important for the purposes of my adventure, Scotchman Peak is a nontechnical climb, albeit not a cakewalk. With almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain per mile

Jason Kannberg

for the roughly four-mile hike, it promises to be an unrelenting ascent. Jason lives in Washington—we trade off traveling to visit each other— and I’m hoping he can spend a Friday with me in Missoula. I suggest we leave on Saturday, after sleeping in. We could possibly hike up Scotchman on Saturday afternoon and camp out that night at Big Eddy, a campground along Highway 200 near the town of Clark Fork. We could either do another summit the next day—maybe Star Peak?—or drive around the eastern edge of the wilderness up Highway 56 to the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area to see the land from a different perspective. I figure we’ll see how we feel. That is, if there’s going to be a “we.” “I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it over there this weekend,” Jason calls me mid-week. Dismay churns in my stomach. Of course, I understand completely—he’s been working the night shift all week in Washington, running heavy machinery at a rockcrushing plant. He’s exhausted. But here’s the problem: I’m strong and in good shape from my job as a personal trainer, but I’m a chicken. Hiking alone scares me, bears and heights freak me out, and so does sleeping solo in a tent. Let’s just say I make Scooby-Doo look brave. Thankfully, Thursday night brings a welcome phone call confirming that Jason will, after all, be heading to Missoula after work on Friday.

fter a leisurely start to the day with several necessary stops, i.e., picking up some chai for both of us and grabbing last-minute groceries, we head west on Highway 200 toward Clark Fork, Idaho, and the trailhead.


Noël Phillips

“Is the water really that color or is it just my sunglasses?” I ask Jason, pulling off my shades. We’ve just turned off Highway 93 at Ravalli. Teal-colored currents replace the chocolate milk of the Clark Fork I pass every day on my way to work in Missoula. We follow the water past small Montana


Then it’s on to Noxon, with its one-lane bridge across the river. Small crowds of people browse myriad yard sales along a barren stretch of highway; they’ve apparently driven from their homes many miles away. As we near Bull River Junction we see more than just humans. A black bear

goat tilts his head and steps toward me. I close my mouth. He continues advancing.

Four feet…three…two… is this really towns I’ve heard about but never visited—Dixon, Paradise. They drift by as sparsely as the clouds above us. I wonder if the old men sitting in front of dilapidated buildings in Paradise were friends of my late grandfather, who died before I had a chance to visit him, but was a longtime resident of this town.


nibbles at some shrubs. A small cluster of bighorn sheep in the road surprises me after a sharp turn. Deer, chipmunks, a marten race across the highway. Once in the town of Clark Fork, population 530, wellmarked roads lead us to the trailhead for trail #65 to Scotchman Peak. Early afterMontana Headwall

noon sunshine beams through the cedar canopy. A hot, punishing climb lies ahead. “Mother Nature is the cruelest personal trainer,” I grumble good-naturedly. “She makes anything I do to my clients look nice.” The comment produces the desired effect: Jason’s laugh. To distract ourselves from the sweat dripping off our faces, we keep toying with the image of Mother Nature as a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix, an exercise which—who knew?—is a great way to pass the time while suffering. The steep climb eventually breaks through the forest on an intermittently muddy and dusty trail, with sporadic views of glittering Lake Pend Oreille. About two-thirds of the way up, dripping cedars give way to bear-grassed hills. The remains of winter’s snowfall cling tenaciously to the final bit of dirt before we hit the shale-covered slopes leading to the summit. We take a lunch break next to a vertigo-inducing drop enhanced by a snowy cornice below the peak. Three preteens pass us en route to the top, leaving their parents behind and ignoring us completely. As I munch on my cranberry and turkey wrap and Jason eats a Snickers Marathon bar, the two of us take in the views: the thickly forested hills below, the hazy blue waters of the lake, the kids picking their way up the snowy talus trail toward the jumbled summit of crumbly metamorphic rock. “Those kids are at the top now,” I note, surprised at their speed. Then I see something above them—something with more than two legs. “Hey! Is that a goat?” “Where?” Jason looks up at where I point. “Right above the kids.” “Maybe we should go up there,” Jason says. He’s never seen a mountain goat before Page 45 Fall 2010

and wants a better look. I have seen a mountain goat before but I also want to check it out. We pack up quickly and head toward the summit on a surprisingly well-worn path, passing the kids on their descent. But we don’t get far. After rounding a bend, we’re stopped by two mountain goats standing directly in our path. We freeze. The goats freeze. After several minutes, the goats finally make their way down the trail toward us, the more brazen of the two barely giving us a chance to step off to one side. His partner takes a more discreet route above the trail through the krummholz. Jason and I exhale, and I’m pleased at myself. The wild beast encounter is just what I’d hoped for. A few more strides carry us to the summit; we’ve made it in a little over two hours. The payoff is amazing. We sit and relax on some rocky outcroppings and chatter about the views, noting the alluvial fan of the Clark Fork emptying into Lake Pend Oreille. A cool breeze dries our sweatsoaked clothes. The topic drifts back to the encounter with the mountain goats. As if sensing the turn in our conversation, a goat suddenly peeks around the edge of a stacked shale shelter. He studies us for a moment, ducks from view, and then reappears... behind me. I sit down to ease any apprehension on his part. I start making tsk-tsking sounds to get his attention. The goat Montana Headwall

Noël Phillips

tilts his head and steps toward me. I close my mouth. He continues advancing. Four feet … three … two … is this really happening? A flash of fear surges through me as he steps even closer. He stops, and we lock eyes, heads cocked in opposite directions. Then he blinks, gives a last curious look, and turns and saunters away. “He was so close! That was so cool!” I’m almost breathless. “I know!” Jason replies, totally thrilled. He’d been just as excited and nervous as I’d been. The elation buoys us on the trek down until the angle of descent pushes away the good feeling, replacing it with burning quads. A couple of hours later, our tired legs eventually find the truck and we head for the nearest town. A cold Fat Tire and dripping Philly cheesesteak sandwich for Jason and a Moose Drool and deliciously greasy Reuben for me at the Cabinet Mountain Bar and Grill in Clark Fork provide the perfect ending to our first hike together. We drive the half hour to the Big Eddy campground,

Page 46 Fall 2010

Map by Kou Moua, satellite images courtesy of NASA

Noël Phillips

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about three miles west of the junction of Highway 200 and Highway 56. As we set up the tent, we agree that spending the next day on a leisurely walk through the Ross Creek Cedars—a grove of giant trees, many over 200 years old—sounds better than another summit climb. Early morning light filters through the cedars the next day as we hike along the cool, dark trail through the grove. Unfortunately, massive amounts of deadfall stop us from reaching the waterfall at the trail’s end, but the stroll provides a nice respite from the steep, sunny slopes of Scotchman.

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We start the drive back to Missoula by afternoon. As the scenery flashes by, I sort through my thoughts, replaying the weekend’s highlights. It’s an adventure to visit such a rugged place, I realize, but the true adventure had been sharing it with Jason. The trip with him was hilarious, light-hearted, serious, mellow and even a bit scary (thanks, goats). The clinking of our beer glasses, our silly antics along the trail, his firm, but good-natured instructions to help me blast my truck through a muddy spot of road (and his amused “Yeah—something like that” after my slippery, fish-tailing success)—these were the things that stuck out in my mind. Maybe we both had questions in the end that we never got answered, but that was part of the thrill. Sometimes the adventure isn’t about where you’re going. Sometimes it’s about who’s there with you.

Montana Headwall

Page 47 Fall 2010


SEPTEMBER September 1 Start stocking the fowl section of your freezer on this opening day for hunting upland game birds (excluding pheasant, that is). Find out if it tastes like chicken at September 3-4 Tie one on at the Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival, a celebration of piscine pleasures, sponsored by the Madison River Foundation. Catch the drift at September 4 Tune your bow: it’s opening day of archery hunting for antelope, black bear, deer, elk and mountain lions. Switch over to broadheads at September 11-12 Where can you see armed dudes in period duds firing oldfashioned guns with black powder? Thought you’d never ask. Just pop over to Baker to watch the Medicine Rocks Buffalo Shoot, where folks in primitive garb aim revolvers and rifles at steel sil-

Chad Harder

houettes as much as 800 yards away. Fire questions to 775-6705. September 12 Feeling formidable? Race up and down 15 miles of rugged dirt roads and trails, then pound 11.2 miles of pavement around Whitefish Lake to finish the sixth annual Two Bear Marathon, sponsored by Hammer Nutrition. There’s a halfmarathon, too, and it’s also a bear. Sprint to September 15 Grab your rifle and permit (if you scored one) for opening day of the general season for black bear, moose, mountain goat and special-permit backcountry deer and elk hunting. Curse your luck if you didn’t win the license lottery at September 18 Let your lungs be wind instruments—and make sure they’re in tune—for the Missoula Symphony’s Cycle for the Symphony fundraiser along the 112-mile Flint Creek Ramble loop, starting and ending in Philipsburg.

Pedalers can ride the whole route or pick off smaller chunks to suit their stamina. Get the score at September 19 Be scene and herd in the Montana Governor’s Cup Marathon, a race from the mote-like town of Molt to big-city Billings. Make Treasure State honcho Brian Schweitzer proud at September 25 Bike through one of the nation’s first, best ideas— Yellowstone National Park—during the West Yellowstone Old Faithful Cycle Tour, a 60-mile trip through stunning landscapes full of wildlife. Join the pack at Space is limited to 350 riders. September 29 What cycling sport has a fanatical following in Europe, is beloved in Belgium, and involves riding on dirt and carrying your bike up hills and over obstacles? Find out during the Wednesday Night Cyclocross Series at Fort Missoula, where you’ll learn how

to ride on an all-terrain course, or hone the skills you already have. Get the dirt at 544-5270.

OCTOBER October 2 Calling all females: It’s time for sprints and sisterhood at the Diva for a Day 5K at Fort Missoula, sponsored by Run Wild Missoula. Join the (girls-only) party at October 9 Scope out Montana’s grasslands on opening day of the general season for antelope and pheasant. Not sure where you can hunt? Find private land you can access for free through the “block management” program at October 15-17 Get down and deciduous at the Tamarack Festival and Brewfest in Seeley Lake, celebrating the brilliantlyhued Western Larch—one of the few conifers that turns colors and sheds its needles each fall. Root out the facts at

October 16 The Rolling Thunder Cyclocross Race at Missoula’s American Legion Sports Complex features a course that’s 90 percent biking and 10 percent running (read: with your bike on your shoulder). All racing levels are welcome to register at October 17 Get a hellishly good workout with a 14K bike race sandwiched between two 4K runs when the Hellgate Duathlon takes on the Ninemile Valley. Get rolling at

NOVEMBER November 14 Head down from the hills: it’s closing day of general season for antelope. Make plans for next year at November 23-27 Slide into Nordic ski season during the Yellowstone Ski Festival, West Yellowstone’s decades-old traditional kickoff to winter that features clinics, races, gear expos and good times on and off the trail. Boot up at

October 23 Gas up the truck and grab y’er ammo: It’s opening day of the general season for deer, elk and mountain lion. Read the regulations at

November 25 Put down that turkey wing long enough to see if it’s opening day at Big Sky Mountain Resort, where the slopes are slated to open, weather allowing. Check the snow report at

October 30 Billings hosts this year’s Montana Cup, a cross-country meet that rotates around Montana, hosted by one of the state’s seven biggest towns. Teams from those towns compete to win the “traveling” trophy. Let your cup runneth over at

November 28 Pop in Montana songwriter John Dunnigan’s classic tune “Meat’s in the Freezer (Let’s Go Skiing)” and head out to fill your tags: It’s closing day of the general season for deer, elk, moose, mountain lion, mountain goat and bighorn sheep. Aim for next year’s dates at

HEAD GEAR by Jack Ballard

uy local. It’s such a common slogan these days that few of us ponder the meaning. But behind the buzzwords is a philosophy. Vegetables grown on local soil don’t needlessly consume fossil fuels in transportation. Timber felled and processed into finished lumber at a family mill keeps the calloused hands of neighbors busy and oils the local economic machine instead of enhancing the stock ticker of a national chain. Fair enough, you might say—it’s easy to find all sorts of top-quality, made-in-Montana products, from lumber and produce to Thanksgiving turkey and beer. But what’s a Montanan to do about another beloved item—a rifle? If you aim to buy local, you’re in luck. Of all the Montana-made hard goods for sporting folks—drift boats, backpacks, fly rods and wall tents, among them—rifle-shooters just might have the finest range of options. Many of them can be found under a single roof. Housed in an unpretentious metal building in lush farm country in Kalispell, the Montana Rifle Company is one rifle-maker that perfectly weds the values of community-based consumerism and fine firearms. With local owners and a dedicated workforce whose morning commute scarcely allows the coffee time to cool, the company is quietly garnering a reputation for rifles with impeccable accuracy, innovative finishes and superior design at a price within reach of almost any committed enthusiast. The heart of Montana Rifle, founded in 1999 by local gunsmith Brian Sipe, is an action of his own design. For those unschooled in the mechanics of the modern rifle, the “action” simply refers to the mechanism that transfers the cartridge from the magazine to the chamber at the rear of the barrel, and then holds it in place for firing.


Jack Ballard

For several decades, two rifle actions have dominated the nation’s custom rifle-making craft: the Winchester Model 70 and the Mauser 98. Incorporating the best features of the Winchester and the Mauser—the smooth, reliable trigger and three-position safety of the former, and the beefy cartridge extractor of the latter—Sipe created an action best described as a hybrid of the two. Dubbed the Model 1999, it also features an improved gas venting system that protects the shooter in the unlikely event there’s a primer blowout. (A rupture in the primer, the component that ignites the powder charge, can shoot vapors toward the face.) For hunters, the most important qualities of a rifle action are durability and ease of operation. Montana Rifle’s 1999 action excels in both. When I arrived for a visit to the company’s headquarters, Jeff Sipe, Brian’s son and the current owner, was putting the finishing touches on a rifle. While I waited for him to complete his work, I plucked a rifle from the rack in the showroom. Working the action, I found it silky smooth. My thumb easily reached the three-position safety, the mechanism gliding forward and aft with just enough tension to clearly feel the various positions without binding. As I replaced the rifle on the rack, a figure came striding from the production area to the showroom. A smiling, sandy-haired fellow extended a hand in my direction. “I’m Jeff. Nice to meet you.” For the next several hours, I followed Jeff on an intimate tour of his family gun-making operation, from the production area and the showroom to the rifle range. Along the way, my appreciation for the challenges of producing a superb rifle at a reasonable price heightened considerably. In the shop area, two gunsmiths fitted parts on an action while another prepared a barrel. Gesturing at the workmanship, Jeff described the frustrations of being a small manufacturing operation dependent on outside sources for parts. “We’ve gone through dozens of vendors over the years,” he explained. “Custom guns are expected to function flawlessly. It

comes down to finding sources for parts with very exacting tolerances, something that’s tough to do. Even from good sources we might have to scrap 30 percent of our parts to get the kind of tolerances we demand.” Price fluctuations also dramatically affect Jeff’s business. Some small parts he purchased for less than a dollar a few years ago now cost $15. In the near future, he hopes to acquire the equipment to produce most of the necessary rifle components on-site. Until then, outside sources might influence the production of Montana Rifles. What they won’t affect is the innovation in the firearms themselves. The company produces a series of Classic rifles, sporting traditional blued barrels and premium walnut stocks. For hunters who take their pursuits to the 10,000-foot ridges of the Absaroka Range, scour the punishing coulees of the Missouri Breaks or brave November snowstorms in the Yaak Valley, the company’s High Country rifles hold the greatest appeal. First and foremost, mobile hunters demand a lightweight rifle. However, reducing a rifle’s weight often produces accuracy problems, since much of the weight is shaved by shortening and constricting barrel diameter. Montana Rifle’s High Country models provide a solution, with rifles that weigh less than 6.5 pounds, yet come with one of the strongest accuracy guarantees in the business. Each rifle is range-tested with basic factory ammunition and guaranteed to shoot one “minute of angle” (MOA) groups with standard ammunition. In layman’s terms, this simply means the rifle will consistently hit a 1-inch bull’s-eye at 100 yards if properly sighted—accuracy that exceeds the expectations of the most demanding hunters. High Country rifles are also completely composed of stainless steel parts, making them much more impervious to the elements than rifles with blued barrels and non-stainless parts. Montana Rifle has stepped up durability in other creative ways, as well. High Country rifles boast nifty synthetic stocks capable of withstanding extreme fluctuations in temperature and moisture exposure Jack Ballard

HEAD GEAR by Jack Ballard

without a whimper. On certain High Country models, the rifles also featured a powdered Teflon coating on the entire barrel and action, which provides additional weather protection and eliminates the glare associated with most stainless steel rifles. While the Classic and High Country rifles compose the backbone of Montana Rifle’s firearms line (they also sell actions and barrels to numerous custom gun-makers across the country), Jeff Sipe is poised to manufacture a new series of rifles to sell in gun shops and sporting goods stores. These stainless steel production rifles will be available in popular big-game hunting cartridges with an expected retail price of around $1,200. Depending on a hunter’s interests, it seems impossible to go wrong with any Montana Rifle. But let me poke my neck out for a moment and offer a specific recommendation for Montana hunters who push their bodies and gear to the limit. For my money, I’d take the Timberline, a High Country rifle with a granite-green stock and a greenish powder coat on the barrel. My caliber choice would be the .260 Remington, an ideal cartridge for deer and antelope that is also sufficient for elk. So configured, the Timberline weighs a wispy 6.2 pounds. At $3,000, the Timberline is more expensive than an off-theshelf rifle but reasonably priced for a custom firearm—and a great opportunity for Montana hunters to buy local. The only downside to owning a Montana Rifle is its potential to damage your ego. If you miss the shot, no one will believe it when you blame the gun.

If you’re hunting for a Montana-made rifle, you’ll have no trouble bagging one. Aside from the Montana Rifle Co., top-notch local manufacturers and custom designers include:

Cooper Firearms of Montana, in Stevensville, Gentry Custom, in Belgrade, Kilimanjaro Rifles, (formerly Serengeti Rifles) in Kalispell, Shiloh Sharps Rifles, in Big Timber,

Montana Headwall

Page 53 Fall 2010

Yogesh Simpson

The Last Good Fish CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21 Though a bit skinny from the recent spawn, the 27-inch brown that Al landed was strong and healthy and the longest of his considerable career, and it redoubled my focus on the remaining water. I was throwing my favorite streamer, a long articulated fly that looks like an emaciated caterpillar when held out of the water but when swimming pulses with a motion that reaches deep into the instincts of big trout. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s called the Two-Week Bender, and the buddy of mine who developed it says it came to him in a fever dream. I cast the Bender a couple of inches from a steep, weeded bank and on my second strip of the line a wide silver flash exploded from the dark water below the undercut. I was able to delay the retrieving motion long enough to hammer the fish with my line hand at the exact moment he annihilated the fly, the kind of gratifying hookset that means the only way you will lose him is if the line or the rod breaks. As my rod bent with the weight, the fish went berserk on the surface before tunneling back upstream, and even with my stout gear it took a handful of long minutes to bring him to net. The rainbow ranks among the most remarkable I have ever caughtâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;two feet in length, wide through the belly and thick in the shoulders, a virile combination of brute strength and the sort of deep reds and purples painted only by cold water. As it slipped from my hands and swam away into the liquid heart of winter, I knew that this one was a keeper. Montana Headwall

Page 54 Fall 2010

Presents and pronghorn CONTINUED FROM PAGE 43

antelope. As we wheel it back toward the road, the familiar, rolling staccato calls of migrating sandhill cranes sound overhead. Looking north, we see several large flocks winging our way. The rush of atmosphere on feather mingles with the cacophony. Captivated by the cranes, I’m suddenly more aware of Lisa standing very close to me, the radiance of life on her face, the intensity of her eyes trained on the long-necked throng, and the bond between us, stronger for this shared adventure. Rubber hums on asphalt as we make the westward journey on Highway 212 back home. Amid the celebratory chatter, Lisa pauses to give my arm a playful pinch. “Do you think that next year I might get an elk tag for my birthday?” For once in my life, I’m sure there’s a birthday present I will not forget.

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Montana Headwall

Page 55 Fall 2010


through thick brush, hopping creeks that It’s mostly about the people I go may or may not have a solid bank on the with. We make memories and build far shore, enduring foul weather and bonds and traditions. Now, my beautiful avoiding badger holes and rattlesnakes. gun, this finely wrought tool, has become Out on the prairie, it’s not hard to wind a part of that. So has Phil. And his grandup flat on your face or mired in smelly father, too. muck, and I really don’t want to bang this gun around. But Phil wants me to use it, so I Intricate dances do. That’s the second part of his gift. It’s not like I bring home buckets across both barrels and the of birds. Whenever I knock one out other metal parts. The of the sky, it’s surprising. “Huh,” I say under my breath. bead is and the butt plate “How did that happen?” But I plan to keep shooting at carved from the horn of a birds for as long as my legs hold out. I’m the type of guy who spends all . kinds of time and money to get someplace where I can walk miles and Last year, I carried the shotgun for miles, hoping for a few ounces of pheasant several miles among some prairie meat. I love eating wild birds—grilled foothills along the Canadian border, a pheasant with a maple and mustard glaze, grouse with pomegranate and garlic, goose hidden place where the stunted aspen and ground-crawling juniper could stewed with prunes and apricots. But fool you into thinking you’re in hunting is only partly about meat.


Glacier National Park’s high country. I didn’t get any birds, but the beautiful gun remains part of that beautiful memory. I got it home without a scratch, though the day etched something into me, something that I hope won’t fade. This year, my oldest grandson turns 12 and will hunt for the first time. He’s still too small for a 12gauge, but in a few years, I’ll let him shoot the beautiful gun. Some day, it will belong to him or one of his brothers. I’d like to see all of them is become better hunters than I am, to be less surprised but just as satisfied when a bird hits the ground and then the plate. Using a fine shotgun might help, though I suspect that, by then, the gun will show some new signs of wear. If they put a mark on it, I’ll live with that. They’ll be the sixth generation to own that gun. By then, it will have earned a scar or two. They’ll be part of the memories, too.



cape buffalo

Montana Headwall

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THE CRUX by Scott McMillion

Triggered Treasure Generating memories with a gorgeous old gun


’ve owned guns since I was 12 years old, when I used paper route money to buy a couple of rifles. Though they aren’t valuable, I wouldn’t sell those first guns for anything, but I might give them away someday. Some of my other guns don’t see much use, so they don’t mean much to me, including a pistol I bought for $100 from a young reprobate of my acquaintance, who had carved an X in the business end of his bullets because he thought he could make them more deadly. I didn’t really want the pistol, but I didn’t want him to have it, either. I knew he’d just buy dope with the money, but I figured he couldn’t rob a liquor store with a gram of coke, meth, whatever. Now it sits in seclusion, as my other guns do most of the year. They are mostly tools that I use in the fall, when I hunt birds and big game. In a way, they aren’t so very different from the saws and drills in my garage: I grab them when I need them. But unlike the other tools, the guns I use every year are fraught with memories: animals killed or missed, companions long gone or coming back next year, places I’ve come to know. It’s serious stuff, these memories: friendship, family, taking life, filling freezers. Like my other tools, the guns have a few nicks and scratches, but they all work just fine, so the dings never bothered me. The normal signs of wear and tear were okay for any gun, as a matter of fact—until my beloved father-in-law, Phil, gave me a shotgun that’s worth more than my pickup truck. Not that my pickup is worth much: it’s 15 years old and has its shares of nicks and scratches, too. But that shotgun is a beautiful thing. It’s almost like a fine landscape painting, in that I notice new details every time I study it. Handcrafted by Prussian artisans in 1885, it had belonged to Phil’s grandfather. Its rich walnut stock bears meticulous checkering, and intricate engraving dances across both barrels and the other metal parts. The sight bead is ivory and the butt plate

is carved from the horn of a cape buffalo. Brass inlays in the steel breech and trigger guard portray hunting dogs and game birds in many poses. It works perfectly, rises to my shoulder and cheek in a natural way, and the only sign of wear is on the outside of the trigger guard, which tells me that Phil’s grandfather put in some hours with this gun across his chest, finger flexed, prepared to shoot. When Phil gave it to me one

Chad Harder

Christmas, he had a simple request: use it. The hunting tradition had died out in his branch of the family, but he knew it still lived in mine. Phil didn’t want his ancestor’s gun to spend another generation hanging on a wall. While his gift delighted me, the request to take the gun into the field gave me a slight case of the yips. Most of the bird hunting I do, in central and eastern Montana, requires crashing Continued on page 56

Our Roots Run 40 Years Deep. At the Good Food Store, we celebrate our roots every day. Born in the early 1970’s as Mr. Natural’s Good Food Store, we’re still dedicated to supporting a healthy community and a vibrant local food system. That’s why you will Ànd our produce racks and butcher cases stocked with the Ànest locallygrown vegetables, fruit and meat. And it’s why this year we will contribute more than $200,000 to many local organizations serving the hungry, promoting nutrition and Àtness, and putting together favorite community events like the Missoula Roots Festival, the Missoula Marathon and First Night Missoula. So thank you, Western Montana, for nourishing that little store that opened on South Higgins 40 years ago. And for continuing to make the Good Food Store your source for local and organic foods and sustainable products.


1600 S. 3rd St. West


541- 3663


7am to 10pm Every Day

Montana Headwall

Page 59 Fall 2010

Montana Headwall  

Outdoor Adventure Under The Big Sky

Montana Headwall  

Outdoor Adventure Under The Big Sky