Stories: hunts, boats, lost items, and other experiences.

Our lives take meaning from our stories. – J. F. Gore: 3/1/14

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Stories and general writings will be on this page.

“If you live in Montana, you’re lucky. And if you live in Western Montana, you’re lucky enough!” — Attributed to Hal Stearn’s Dad, January 2014  Montana History class.

                        TO SHOOT A DUCK: OR, WHAT’S DO’N IN MEXICO

Dry, hot, rocky and thorny: Obregon, Mexico. Doesn’t look much like a duck shooting place. The waterfowl magazines had such glowing high praise for this area of fast duck and black brant shooting.

So far, on day one, Ed and I sat on a plane from Phoenix for an hour, then sat in a SUV for a 3 hour ride to the hunting lodge in downtown Obregon. No nice lake, river, or estuary shoreline view-shed for this place. Not some picturesque location. I’m beginning to wonder if web-foots are anywhere close to this lodge. I brought binoculars and a birding book and also wondered if any birds but city pigeons and sparrows would be around. I didn’t venture out!

At the lodge, provided drinks and snacks were plentiful. The Maître d’ was an engaging fellow named Hammer and he kept drinks and hors d’oeuvres refreshed.

After the excellent bar-b-que dinner of chicken and vegetables, Frank, our Outfitter, laid out the plans for our following days hunt. Things were sounding better. Our group of seven hunters would leave at 5 AM and head west towards the coastal bays and lagoons lying off the coast of the Sea of Cortez. Our quarry for the day will be black brant and random ducks. Hopefully some of the brant will have leg bands or other marking tags.

THE DAY TO BE STUCK    We left the lodge as planned; goal was to be at the boat launch site by 6 AM. Tide was going out and we wanted to be at the blinds early. To reach the ramp, we had to cross a wet tidal mud flat and our driver chose the wrong route. Suburban was stuck for about 20 minutes. Help arrived to push us out only to have the driver do a 360, turn around and drive back over the same spot and we were stuck again. Getting unstuck a second time, we finally got to the higher route and on to the ramp as it was getting light.

Our blind was on Los Lobos Bay at a mangrove point facing west and the wind was coming into our face at about 10 mile per hour. For our position this was not a good hunting wind. Also the brant decoys had anchor weighs that were too light and the wind pushed them down wind. We had to move the decoys several times.

Brant worked the bay all day and with Pats calling, some birds came to decoys. They hooked back into the wind and most alighted out-side the decoys. Shots were long but we connected on many birds. Fifty-three brant filled our daily bag and Pat Pitt got a blue-winged teal and a red-breasted merganser. Pat is a taxidermist and the merganser will one day grace his home. He commented that the bird was the best plumaged red-breasted his has gotten.

Retrieving black brant on Mexico hunt
Mexico hunt, retrieving black brant

At hunts conclusion, the airboat returned at tides full ebb and got stuck. These boats are very heavy and once stuck, normally have to await the tides return to refloat it.

The next day we hunted about 30 miles southwest of Obregon on Huatabampo bay. Of the several black brant I shot, two were tagged. One had a steel leg band, number 1987-19403 and the other a web tag, numbered YR1Z028M. Later, these were turned into the US Fish and Wildlife Service for their records.

Leg banded black brant
Leg banded black brant

On our return to the launch site, seems we were short a ½ gallon of gas and the boat came to an abrupt stop about a quarter mile from ramp. Tide was going out so we drifted further away from the ramp. Earlier, as it had started to rain, the outfitter had called the other airboat back and started them home. They were not here to help us. This bay is very remote. Luckily a pair of fishermen had been using the bay and was camped on a sand bar about a 1/3 of a mile from the ramp. As we floated by their tent, our airboat driver called to them and one guy came out, and with his boat towed us back. If they had not been here, we would likely still be out somewhere in the Sea of Cortez!

It was raining hard when we finally got to the launch site. Frank quickly got us into the suburban for the ride out. And none too soon as the 8 or 10 miles of dry dirt road we came down on in the dark had turned to very slick mud. We got stuck twice and magically folks showed up to either help push us up an incline and over a bridge, or with a tractor to pull us back up onto the road.

The rain let up in the afternoon and we hunted a site north east of Obregon a few miles. A big canal flowed past a livestock feed lot that had a runoff drain slough. Very soupy and lush it was! And it pulled in a lot of ducks. Shooting was fast and tricky. There we got black bellied whistling ducks and Mexican ducks plus many scaup and a few ring-necks.

Before we left early this morning, the drivers were huddled under the suburban’s hood. Seems we were 4 quarts short of oil. Oh, and later we learned our airboat engine had blown up and it was not out of gas. During the rest of our hunts we operated with one airboat instead of the two.

On day 3, we were to hunt a brackish marsh. We were up earlier for our 1 ½ hour ride to the launch site. Ed and I hunted with Rex and we seemed to be a pretty cordial group as we shot about 70 birds and took turns on who shot first. Ed and Rex seldom missed and I shot my standard mediocre level. Lots of shovelers along with teal and pintails use this marsh.

Again, for the second day, rain gushed from dark heavy grey clouds. Even with good rain gear we all got soaked and somewhat chilled. The boat picked us up for a lunch break, which occurred at a resort on the beach of the Sea of Cortez. Nice place and great pork loin hot meal. It really poured while we were inside at the resort cantina. Our hostess had a clothes dryer that we used to dry shirts. We were warm by the time we returned to the same blinds we used in the morning. The sun appeared in the afternoon and continued to warm us. We shot about 2/3’s of our birds in the morning during the rain.

This was a very muddy marsh and a step off of our wooden platform floor put us knee deep in mud. The airboat returned often to pick up our ducks then went to the other blinds to retrieve their birds. They kept the ducks pretty well rallied up on the marsh moving birds between the blinds. In the USA, this would be considered an illegal activity.

We hunted Agiabampo Bay, an estuary, on our last day, February 1. The area is a 2-hour drive Southeast of Obregon and has mostly pintail, widgeon and brant. We shot many beautifully plumaged male pintails, a few widgeon and several brant. One brant I shot was leg banded, number 1767-27730. Ed and I hunted again with Pat. Our first blind, on a shrub-covered island, was not too productive so we were moved to a point in a more open part of the bay. That is where we got several brant. Pat also got a banded brant here. This concluded our waterfowl hunts.

On the way back to Obregon, several of us were placed in a shrubby woods area surrounded with crop fields. The plan was to hunt doves, both mourning dove and white-winged doves and gamble quail. The narrow dirt roads in the woods had been sweetened with milo seed. Ed managed to shoot 4 boxes of shells while I burned two boxes. I got a bunch of doves, including two white-wings and several quail.

During the trip, we ate some brant, but most of our birds were shared with the local folks that were glad to get the variety of meat. I picked up a few new life list bird species; most notable were the white-wing doves, Mexican ducks and the black bellied whistling ducks. During our last dinner, Frank arranged for a local Mariachi band to come entertain us. That was fun and all the meals provided were very good. Not withstanding the broken boat, stuck vehicles and down pouring rain this was a very interesting and productive trip.

JFG:2/18/15

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1981 goat hunt success.
1981 goat hunt success.

“All mountain game yields sport, because of the nerve, daring, and physical hardihood implied in its successful pursuit. The chase of the white goat involves extraordinary toil and some slight danger on account of the extreme roughness and inaccessibility of its haunts. “     Theodore Roosevelt

RIVER-OF-NO-RETURN MOUNTAIN GOAT HUNT    

   By Jay Gore

There is a brief period in late fall, following a freeze period, where cool days return to summerlike conditions. Called Indian summer, the days are choice and are to be cherished. You may recall some special Indian summer days in your life.  Here is one of mine.  November 4-9,1981, found me in the Salmon River-Of-No-Return Wilderness, in central Idaho.

.Big game hunting permits in Western states are hard to come by and are obtained via a lottery. In my third year of applying, I drew a Mountain Goat permit, one of only two in the hunting unit sitting above the Salmon River in central Idaho. Access was difficult. One could take a long hike in from the MacGruder road north of the unit, or jet boat up from Whitewater ranch that was about 10 miles down stream from the hunting unit. In late October I tried to hike in but was rained out. I contacted the other permit holder, Jim Thrash, a smoke jumper from McCall, to see what his plans were. He too had tried a hike but failed. I suggested we hire the jet boat guide at Whitewater ranch, which we did. In early November the guide dropped us off at the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek in late afternoon and we pitched camp. On day 2, as we had breakfast near the Salmon River, a beautiful full curl Big Horn sheep walked up a trail about 20 yards from where we were sitting. Just magnificent! Later, we went on a scouting hike up the ridge between the River and Rattlesnake creek to glass for goats in the Rattlesnake drainage. We found them, about five animals, across the creek on the north side. Skies were bright blue and clear as migrating flocks of snow geese flew south calling. We returned to camp and made plans for our hike up the north ridge the next day. Day 3, we hiked to a spring at about 7,000 feet elevation and near the goats we saw the day before. With the steep climb, it took all day with our seven days’ supply of food and gear on our backs.

Up early on day 4, we hiked up the ridge and we each took a side ridge that angled south down into the creek. Jim on one ridge and I on the other, we glassed all morning and most of the afternoon. I saw no goats. Later, I looked back up the ridge that Jim was on and saw a goat! Where is Jim I wondered? I hiked back up my ridge and got across from the goat. Where’s Jim? I estimated the goat was about 350 yards away. I did not want to shoot it if Jim was also looking at this goat. I was using a 7mm Remington Magnum, Salvage Model 110 rifle, my uncle in Kentucky had given me in 1968. Where’s Jim I keep thinking? I glassed his ridge to see if I could see him. Nope. Okay, I’m going to shoot this goat. One shot with the 140-grain Sierra bullet and the great white goat with 8 1/2 inch horns was down, not to move again.

As I was watching the goat, for any movement, I spotted Jim getting up about 150 yards from the animal. Oh no I thought! I felt awful. I packed up my gear and headed down the draw and up the other ridge to start working on the goat. Jim met me about half way. He said he had been glassing the goat to determine if he should shoot it, and was wondering where I was. Then POW! My shot rang out and he then knew where I was. I told him I was so sorry I shot his goat. He said, “Why didn’t you shoot one of the three goats that were below you as you sat eating your lunch?” I had not been able to see those due to the steep terrain as they were over the slope out of my sight.

While I was skinning and boning meat from my goat, Jim went up the ridge I had been on and shot his goat near where I had had lunch. It was getting late and sun was going down. It was 6:30P.M. and dark by the time I got my goat finished and on my pack. I hiked out of the canyon in the light of a full moon, returning to camp at 9:00P.M. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard more geese migrating that night. Jim stayed in the canyon that night working on his goat, and packed it out when day broke the next morning, which was day 5. He got back to camp, had a beer and some breakfast and we decided to hike out to the Crowfoot outfitters camp, for the balance of the day.

Our packs, with gear and goat, were very heavy. It was a struggle. I was 40 and Jim was 32. The outfitter had not planned to boat us out for three more days and we said we understood. But early on day 6, he came to the tent to get us up. His wife needed something at the ranch and he could boat us out that morning. Super we thought.

All six days of our hunt were grand, storybook material. Temperatures were about 35 degrees in morning warming to 65-70 during day. Clear and sunny, with full moon at night, the best Indian summer I’ve ever had. We were very tired, and yet, very satisfied. Bill goat still graces my great room wall.

Published: October, 2013. The Regular Joe, monthly newspaper, Vol. 3, Issue 5. Missoula, Mt.

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 A FAVORITE BOAT— THE GRUMMAN SPORT BOAT

              I have noticed that the more the horsepower of a boat increases, the less polite the people who operate it are.” Robb White

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  The boat!

 Do you believe humans have developed a watercraft for every imaginable purpose? Seldom are two alike. There are thousands of styles and varieties of boats for every thing to do on the water. Boats are fascinating because they have many beautiful interesting lines and curves. The boat making craft is an art form. Function with beauty. Mostly! I have seen some watercraft that was ugly to me, but someone else might find the appeal. Some are passionate about boats because of their beauty, others because of their function; do they work? And how efficiently do they work?

My passion is duck hunting. And all things about duck hunting. I have built duck boats and I have bought duck boats. Most were functional rather than beautiful. The one I address today is the Grumman Sport Boat, or some call the Sportcanoe. This high tensile strength stressed skin aluminum boat was manufactured by Grumman (the aircraft company) and more recently by Marathon Boats. The form is based upon the Maine Grand Lakes wood/canvas canoe designed and made for freighting on large lakes sometime in the early 1900’s. The Grumman version has been manufactured since 1946.

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Sport Boat ready for duck hunt action with trolling motor.

I first became aware of the Sport Boat in 1965. After my University of Maine studies, I was in a training program to become a Game Management Agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Game Agents were assigned the Sport Boat for use in waterfowl banding and law enforcement. At 110 pounds and with its tough rugged construction, it could easily handle car top transport and rough use. Many

Agents used 10 horsepower outboards to power their craft on small to medium sized lakes and backwater wetlands of major rivers like the Mississippi. I bought my first Sport Boat in 1973.

For duck hunting, the boat will carry two people, guns, gear, a dog, and a couple sacks of decoys handily. The designated load capacity has varied over the years due to U. S. Coast Guard specifications but now is rated at 450 pounds. At one time they rated the craft at about 1000 pounds; go figure! I use a 9.9 horsepower Force outboard when traveling on rivers such as the Snake or Flathead. While living in southwestern Illinois, I used a 6 hp Johnson on backwaters of the Mississippi River. On aquatic vegetation filled wetlands in Alberta, I successfully use a 55-pound thrust trolling motor to propel the boat.

The structural design making the boat safe for a good sized load, is the design that makes it a poorer choice for hunting wetlands with little or very low vegetation. The bow rides high above the water line, a safety feature, but makes it difficult to hide. In tall cattails or bulrush, concealment is not a problem. On rivers, I use it to get me to the hunt location safely, then blind up in willows or other local vegetation. I place the boat several hundred yards downstream.

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Hides well in taller marsh vegetation.

This boat is 15 feet, 3 inches long with beam of 43 inches. The stern is 32 inches. This width provides better stability (less tipping), which is important for cold-water duck hunters. This stability feature is a prime reason I got this style of boat in 1973 when my son was young. It was very suitable/safe for him to use while learning boating skills of paddling and small motors.

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The Sport Boat is long, wide and stable, with a strong supporting keel.

My first Sport Boat had several mishaps. While returning from a 1981 Snake River hunt in Idaho, a very strong wind gust blew the boat off my truck and into the oncoming lane of traffic. The boat bounced once and into the bumper of an oncoming car driven by a very old lady. Scared the heck out her, and me, but the only harm done was a minor dent to the car. This tough boat had a dent in the transom seam on the right side and I figured severe enough to cause major leaks. But it did not leak so the rivets and seam held together. Amazing!

Another calamity happened in 1986, while I was in Denver for a conservation meeting on grizzly bears. I had leaned the boat against the garage outside wall while I was gone. A big storm hit southern Idaho with high winds, which blew over the boat. Heavy rains cascaded off the garage roof into and filled the boat. A cold front with temperatures’ in the twenties followed this rainstorm event. I had one huge heavy ice cube in the shape of my boat. I carefully chopped the ice out to the point I could drag the boat into my house to over-night warm and melt remaining ice. Then the damage was revealed. Careful as I was with chopping the ice, I had put 8-10 slits through the metal bottom. I had planned to hunt the following day so I patched the cuts with aluminum glue (liquid solder) and the temporary fix got me through the weekend of hunting. The next week I found a heli-arc welder to repair my damage. Never leaked again.

In 2000, I saw a “like new” Sport Boat at a second hand store in western Montana and bought it for $475.00. I sold my old one to a friend in Boise for $350.00. The new one was in original unpainted silver finish so a trip to an auto/truck body shop got it a good primer treatment and coat of marsh grass paint. The paint adhesion has been generally good. The boat’s minor use was indicated by only two motor mount impressions on the stern motor mount pad. It was a “good” buy. It will easily last me thru the next 7 to 8 years of hunting when I will be over 80. An inquiry to Marathon Boats, who now makes this boat, revealed it was made in 1976.

For my style of duck hunting, this is an ideal watercraft. It is light enough that I can move it around easily, and lift it onto and remove it from the top of my Jeep. In the waters I go on, it is safe transportation. My dogs can get in and out of it easily too. And, there are several options to propel the craft. I guess you can say I just love it.

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Dogs are ready, Jeep’s ready, and boat is loaded and ready for a hunt.

The utility of this craft is experienced on river float trips. I have made several multiple-night trips on the Flathead, Missouri, Smith and Snake rivers. Two people, ice chest, large dry bag, camping gear dry box and other items can be accommodated. The stability of the canoe is a safety plus, but that also makes the boat more difficult to paddle.

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Boat loaded for a trip on the Flathead.

 More information on the Grumman Sport boat can be found below:

Google: wilipedia.org–Grumman Sport Boat

http://marathonboat.com/square-15.asp

http://www.robbwhite.com/sportboat.html

Jay Gore, From the Waterfowler’s Lodge over looking the Clark Fork river valley      June 20, 2014

“… duckhunting stands alone as an outdoor discipline. It has a tang and spirit shared by no other sport—a philosophy compounded of sleet, the winnow of unseen wings, and the reeks of marsh mud and wet wool. No other sport has so many theories, legends, casehardened disciples and treasured memories.”–John Madson, The Mallard, 1960

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 Francesca and Sport Boat after a good hunting day in Alberta!

Note from Cal

The following comment says it all from me—–I very often kick my ass for being DAMNED DUMB for selling my Sport Boat and & hp Merc..I had great times hunting from the boat in the then great habitat of the Pool 7 Trempealeau Bottoms during early retirement years. The simple blind that I made for the boat worked like a charm. The birds did not have a chance. Early on I tested the boat by running the boat from Goose Island to Stoddard in a hard blow–took in less water than with 16′ Polar Craft. A favorate story for me = I asked Herr Fuchs [noted ex Fed. Duck Cop ] why he could be running a 9.9 hp motor on his boat that was Coast Guard Rated for much less hp ? He hung his head and apol. to me for being so derelict. Then he admitted that the 6 hp outboard decal on the motor was BOGUS !! [ thus the famous hardnosed duck cop had to admit he had cheated ! ].

Note from Cal Barstow, Sept. 8, 2014.

Note from Bill:

This past weekend I decided to sort through my “pile” and guess what I found on the bottom–your message on the Grumman sport canoe!  I really enjoyed reading your writing on your Grumman. When I went to work for Illinois in 1971, I was issued a sport canoe by the DOC with an Evinrude 9.9 h.p. motor.  Like you, I found the boat a viable and efficient means of transportation.  I hunted ducks on Shelbyville reservoir and fished from it everywhere in my District in East Central Illinois.  Your words rekindled some fine memories and I appreciate your reflections on the boat.  ……   Bill Allen, Minnesota. Nov. 2014

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                                    FORCE 9.9 HP OUTBOARD MOTOR

In a separate story I relate my experiences with the Grumman Sport Boat. I mentioned that I have used Johnson 6 horsepower and Force 9.9 hp outboards on that boat with good results. The Johnson was used from 1973 till 1989 when I bought a Force 9.9 outboard. The boat is rated for about the 6 hp level. However I have known folks that have used 10 hp Johnsons or Evinrudes with safety and satisfaction.

Force outboards, no longer manufactured, were made by US Marine Power Corporation. They had been in the marine business a long time and had bought out the Chrysler outboard company. They made few changes so the Force 9.9 is essentially the old Chrysler 9.9 hp outboard. I bought mine January 24, 1989 from Club Wholesale, a precursor business to Costco. I paid $965.97.

Before making this purchase, I did some outboard motor quality investigation. Chrysler had been making this basic motor since 1983. Early bugs had been worked out and it was not a “troubled” motor. It was not “state-of-the-art” but dependable. A basic simple motor and that is what I wanted. Most of my outboard use is in fall and winter in cold and freezing weather so I need dependability for watercraft safety. It was designed with a bigger water pump impeller, which I thought a good feature.

The motor weights 60 pounds. This is easily handled as it is always taken off the boat and transported in the vehicle. After use and before transporting, I stand the motor on its skagg upright and start the motor with gas line disconnected to run ALL gas out of the carburetor. This action also completely drains the water from the water pump and impeller housing so no water is left in the motor that could possibility freeze. Also at home, the motor is stored up right leaning in a corner. That keeps residual cylinder oil from draining to and fouling spark plugs if it were lain down on the floor.

On the next trip, the gas line is connected to the motor and the gas line priming bulb squeezed a few times to get gas to the motor. On the motor, the rubber carburetor-priming bulb is pushed 4-5 times, choke pulled out and starter rope pulled. With this motor, it reliably starts on the second pull. Usually always has!

OK, why am I going into all this detail? I have another bigger boat and motor I have been using since 2001 on the rivers I hunt. On smaller, weed-choked wetlands, I use an electric trolling motor to move the Sport boat. So I have not use the Force 9.9 for at least eight years. Gas had been sitting in the tank all these years too. This is not good. On August 27, 2014, I took the dogs on a boat ride in the Sport boat and wanted to use the Force 9.9 since it had sat in the corner for those eight years. But, would it start? Everything hooked up, carburetor primed and ready to pull the starter rope. Wow, FIRST pull and it started! I even forgot to pull out the choke for a couple pulls. And it ran perfectly. We had a great day on the river and the little motor preformed great. So I think I have a pretty good little motor.

Note from Jim Vashro: March 16, 2015

Well, good for you. But you probably got lucky. I’ve sometimes had trouble keeping an outboard running with regular use.

Two things happen with outboards. One, they tend to have gas sitting for a long time. Without some kind of treatment gas get varnish or sludge and will usually gum up a carburetor.

Two, the advent of E-10 gas in the late 1990s to early 2000s really upped the ante. Left sitting without treatment the ethanol in gas tends to separate out. Ethanol is highly corrosive and really eats up rubber and plastic in motors, especially carburetors. You either get leaks or clogs. Newer motors have better materials but ask any small engine mechanic and they will tell you E-10 really has been a boost to their business.

When the ethanol separates out it attracts water (like HEET additive which is alcohol). The ethanol/water can actually cause rust on pistons and other metal. And when a big gob of water hits your fuel filter or carburetor it stalls. I had a Toyota pickup where I learned to change the fuel filter regularly and carry a spare or it would strand me.

I have to say the older motors seemed to run better. I had a 1970s vintage Johnson that ran like a champ. But it got hard to find parts. I now have a 2002 75 hp Mercury 4-stroke. I about wear out the starter every time getting it to start and it’s cold-blooded. Runs great once it’s going but I’m never sure. Computer-run motors are great – when they run. Kind of like today’s cars compared to my 1957 Chevy station wagon all-around hunting and fishing rig with a 283 which never stranded me!

Jim, thanks for your story and input.

I faintly remember in ’88 or 1990, having my outboard mechanic change the fuel line hoses in the motor, and at the same time, bought a new gas tank fuel hose.  That was to take care of the gas mixture changeover. I think it has worked.  Also, since about 2000, I have added Sta-bil fuel additive to the gas. Using more of it than called for in the winter. That must have helped the 8 year old gas stay somewhat viable.

Motor on!  Jay  March 16, 2015

 

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LOST

A simple challenge: Have you NEVER lost anything? Or know someone who’s never lost anything? I guess a case could be made for shades of grey for lost things. An item could be temporarily miss-placed; but a reasonable search finds it. Then there is the really lost, lost item. Never to be seen again.

I learned many years ago to NEVER ever set anything on the car roof. Or on the vehicles’ rear bumper’s flat surface. It is just too easy to forget items on those areas and drive off and lose them. Wonder how many gloves or coffee cups have been lost that way! I know I have lost a couple of coffee mugs. I have a friend, after a day of hunting, placed his shotgun on the car top and, forgetting it, drove off. Way down the road he remembered, but too late. Someone had come along and found a nice shotgun.

So where is the most weird place you have lost an item, then later found it? Several years ago, October 10, 2003(I keep records of such facts) my upland bird-hunting partner Dan and I were chasing pheasants in eastern Montana. Lunchtime came and we set up our chairs behind the pickup. The flat bumper serving as our table, we sat cheese, bread, and other items on it. Clean up time came and we left to work the dogs on more birds. Later that afternoon, I missed my red handled Swiss army knife. The one a special friend of mind gave me over 20 years ago, the one knife I cherished greatly. Back tracking my thoughts, I realized I had set it on the bumper at lunchtime. We retraced our route and got back to the lunch spot only to find the knife not there. Thinking it must have bounced off the bumper, I walked the road searching for a mile. No luck: gone. Sad lesson learned.

October 12th at lunchtime, we again set up behind the truck and spread our stuff out.

Our chairs were set differently and my eye level was such that I could see over the bumper towards the pickup bed. There I spied the red handled knife. Instead of bouncing off the back, it vibrated forward and lodged in the crack between bumper and bed. It had ridden there for two plus bumpy days. Lucky me!

Fast-forward 10 years. I was loading luggage in the back of my pick-up and I placed my coffee mug and rubber cased cell phone on the flat bumper. I grabbed the silver coffee mug and took off down the Interstate towards Helena. About 80 miles later I was searching for my cell and not finding it. Pretty sure I had it in my hand when I left the house. I stopped at the next rest area and checked the bumper knowing full well I would not find it. Well, there it was. It too, had jiggled forward against the pick-up bed and not back off the bumper. Lucky twice!

OK. So I’m ten years older, am I permitted one senior moment to forget the lesson I was supposed to have learned in 2003? I’m sure lost cell phone stories are endless.

Here’s a lost-cell-phone-while-hunting story. My friends and I were in North Dakota hunting pheasants. Jim and I hunted a couple of afternoon hours before we were to meet our buddies. I had placed my cell phone in the deep game pocket. End of the hunt and back at the truck, I searched for the cell. Not there!! Oh no, we had covered a lot of ground. I had bagged a couple of pheasants and thought when I kneeled to pick up the birds, perhaps the phone fell out at those spots. We retraced our paths and I had Jim call my phone. My ringtone was set on wolf howl: likely not too many wolves in North Dakota. So we listened for a howling wolf. It was windy, no surprise there, and sound would not carry far. We tried several areas without luck.

The next morning, with four guys and eight ears listening, and no wind to contend with, we checked the area again. This time we covered more of our hunt path and on the fourth set up Kim heard a faint howl. We closed the gap and Jim called the phone again. Where Jim had stopped to call, he was standing within 15 inches of the phone. It was about 40 degrees that morning and the battery had held up. I counted my blessing again that day.

What “lost” stories do you have? Let’s hear them.

Jay Gore, from the Waterfowlers Lodge overlooking the beautiful Clark Fork valley.

July 16, 2014

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MAGICAL CRESTVIEW LANE

As I open my door and ascend the seven steps to street level, my lungs breathe in the cool crisp air. Ah, the fresh mountain air. Occasionally, I’m hit with the smell of pungent wood smoke from a neighbor’s oxygen starved wood stove. A very acrid smell!

I walk my two Labs at dawn’s break. Area crows are awakening and talking to each other. Sometimes I hear the ducks and geese calling from the Pattee creek ponds. When I see groups of ducks floating in the sky, wings catching the wind to alight on the ponds, it truly is a gold star day. Street lights shimmer and twinkle across the valley. Soon the Redwings will be twittering in the cattails below. I look forward to their return.

Raccoon, red fox, Hungarian partridge, whitetails are found along my lane. The deck of my Las Vegas wintering neighbor served as the fox’s den site last spring. Three kits resulted. From gravel scattered upon icy patches, my shoes crinkle and scratch pavement as the pebbles squash under foot. Winters heavy crusted snow lies heavy upon the landscaped Junipers boughs.

Skyward, I see the skeletons of green ash, aspens, birch, chokecherry, hawthorn outlined in the grey but lighting dawn. The hillside is held in gravities’ check by the thick cement retaining wall. A wall my dogs frequently jump to explore wondrous smells in the woods: at least wondrous to them. The sandpaper rough feel of the concrete on my knees or hands tell me my dogs exceed the length of the check cord.

The valley lies to the north with its urban forest of maples, ashes, oaks, dogwoods, elms and other vegetation that mostly are invaders from the East. They cloak the places of long ago teepee homes of an earlier cultural, and now shelter stick timber stud homes of a new culture. I wonder how long the new culture will last?

Returning, I enter the home I love so much, it really does seem to fit my soul like a warm favorite sock. I love my home, my valley, and my town. Inquisitive? You can find my lane on a map; but don’t ever go there! It would ruin my experience.

Jay Gore, February 21, 2012,  Missoula, Mt.

Published: Regular Joe newspaper, Missoula, March 2013.

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The Back Porch

During summertime mornings I love having breakfast and reading the newspaper on my northwest facing back porch. At first sunrise, the sunlight kisses the tops of the Rattlesnakes’ Stuart Peak, and Sleeping Woman Peak on the Nine-mile divide.

Images of ancient glacial Lake Missoula flash into mind as long ago shoreline-washed ridges appear on the North Hills’ slopes as the low angled sun-shadows are cast. How many years did waves, icy I suspect, splash upon those shores? What interesting animals sheltered in the forested mountains above? Ten thousand years ago, wooly mammoths were around, but were they in what is now western Montana? How about dire wolves, and giant bears? Did they experience the glacial lake? Were mountain lions here then? Or the saber toothed tiger? I’ll have to look all that stuff up one day.

At a low angle, I live above the valley floor. Our row of little houses is the first tier above southwest Higgins Avenue. My view is across leafy treetops. This is good because that angle camouflages the many low sprouting houses of Missoula. What one sees from my back porch is essentially a nice forest of deciduous trees. But the leafy cover is lost in fall, where during winter I endure the pain of seeing all of humanities’ dwellings below.

Alas, there are a few summertime eyesores too. Missoula Manor retirement home and the ugly “too-many-storied” office building on South Avenue, north of Southgate Mall, are distractions. Garish also are the yellow, orange and reddish tubes channeling kids upon high to waters below at the swimming pool. These contrast to the cool, calming green open meadows of Playfair Park and the adjoining soccer fields.

There is a brief magical time in the fall when the green leafy valley’s camouflage turns golden, and brightens my view. Then, tons of drab dead leaves have to be managed and properly disposed. Recycled to compose for reuse next spring I hope!

Papers read-coffee’s gone; a welcoming new retirement day begins. God, I love this place!

Back porch sunset
Back porch sunset

J. F. Gore, from the Waterfowlers Lodge over looking the Clark Fork Valley.      August 25, 2014

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  Special Days Afield in Montana’s Sagebrush Sea

Being physically fit and retired is very rewarding. I am a wildlife ecologist and have continued that interest by pursuing many conservation endeavors into retirement. One activity I really enjoy is getting into sagebrush filled high mountain valleys in spring. These places are the haunts of wintering elk, antelope, mule deer, the occasional wolf, and the places where sage-grouse males find dancing grounds, called leks, to display and attract females. Few people experience this springtime backcountry. Therefore, I will share some stories with you.

During April 2004, I was in the Centennial Valley assisting the National Wildlife Federation and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department census sage-grouse on their leks. I was observing the Fish Creek lek and counting the displaying males in my spotting scope. In the background, through my scope, were about 125 elk grazing on the south-facing slope of the Gravelly Mountains. Pretty cool I thought. But wait, now what do I see? It is a long-billed curlew in its courtship flight. It was really cool to see all three of these critters in my scopes’ field-of-view at once. This was a rare morning indeed.

On April 25, 2012, I was in Basin Creek, in Beaverhead county for a lek count. While counting birds on their lek, 17 elk were seen, crossing through in the distance, but within the spotting scopes’ field-of-view.  Also, a pair of long-billed curlews was on the ground in courtship display in the field-of-view just beyond the sage-grouse. So again I’m seeing all three of these species in the scope’s single field-of-view. The curlew’s call could be distinctively heard out the truck’s window as the sun just peeked over the eastern snow and pine-capped mountains. And to be heard at the same time is the beautiful warbling call of the rare sage thrasher. A few minutes later, a small family group of Canada geese are calling overhead. These things aren’t observed or heard from either the office desk, nor upon ones’ morning rising in urban environs. This rare mix of wildlife can only be found on a few habitats in North America, let alone in the world. Indeed, lucky am I to have also shared this wonderful rare experience with good friend and biologist colleague Skip Kowalski. Life is made very special with an experience like this!

Yellowstone National Park is a very special place too. It’s extra special in June when all the wildlife babies are often visible in the sagebrush. For many years, in June, I have assisted in conducting a carnivore class for agency folks in the Lamar Valley. In 2002, while at Slough Creek, several of us were watching a grizzly sow and her cub on the mountainside across the creek. In my binocular field-of-view was a dead tree snag at the edge of the creek. A bald eagle alighted on this snag as I watched the bears. That was unique. Two threatened species in one binocular field. But wait, a black wolf was trotting along the far creek bank. Its path took it between the bears and the perched eagle. Now, three rare species were seen in one field-of-view. I’ll never forget that gold star biological day. That day is even more special now because all three of those species are recovered and have been removed from the Endangered Species list. For 23 of my 48 plus career years in wildlife conservation, I played a significant part in those species’ recovery.

Montana is such a great place to live. It will soon be time for me to pack the truck for another spring safari into the sagebrush sea.

Jay Gore, From the Waterfowler’s Lodge overlooking the beautiful Clark Fork Valley. March 28, 2013

Published:  Montana Naturalist, Missoula, Mt.  Spring 2014

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“The mystery of nature was never displayed more happily.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cambridge.   July, 1838

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JAZZ’S DAY

Jazz was anxious. He was ready for another fabulous day in the Alberta marsh. He had no idea what a day he was going to have.

We had arrived at Harry Hall marsh, a Ducks Unlimited wetland constructed in the 1940’’s. Its forte’ was that it was full of many species of aquatic plants. The types of plants that ducks’ crave. Lots of ducks! But today the objective of this trip was not so much hunting ducks as it was finding the camera that went missing from my coat pocket two days before on a separate hunt. The sun was up, masked by a few stringy clouds. The overcast said sunglasses would not be needed today.

The camera had been carried in the outer left breast coat pocket secured, I thought, by the Velcroed flap. When lost, it was hot, about 75 degrees and the coat was shucked. Short shirtsleeves were all it took to stay comfortable this late morning. Somewhere along the line when carrying the coat, gun, bucket, and other hunting gear after the hunt, the camera slipped out. Anywhere from shallow water puddles, levee vegetation of thick roundstem bulrush, to a good-sized lake could be concealing my camera. One of the better scenarios would be that it fell out in the boat while loading/unloading gear. At the take out, the boat is turned over to drain and dry out. Although I did not realize I had lost it, no oblivious camera was on the ground under the boat when we loaded it upon the Jeep’s car-top carriers.

 

Now, as I presently sit on my bucket, ducks are gliding in and around the decoys. Marsh wrens are raising hell with Jazz and a meadowlark sings beautifully across the water in the Alberta prairie behind us. Duck’s feet splashing on water lets me know a bird has just landed in the decoys. The gun has spoken many times this morning and not much game is lying beside us! As a hunting colleague of mine often says “Mr. Remington would be very happy today”. His cash register is ringing very loudly. These special steel shot waterfowl shells cost about 60 cents each. Duck meat is NOT cheap. Many shots taken have been at less than 20 yards and the modified choke pattern is pretty narrow at that range. But that’s not my duck-hitting problem. I’m up to my old bad habit of halting my shotgun swing as I pull the trigger. The gun stops but the bird keeps moving, a guaranteed miss every time. I fear Jazz is losing his patience’s with me. He keeps dozing off, paying no attention to the hunt.

There has been several times this morning that my white writing pad has flared ducks. Guess I’m more interested in writing than shooting. Actually I have shot way too much for the few birds we have. Good to pause, write, and settle down a bit.

It wasn’t until the day after, that I missed my camera. That day Jazz made his 500th bird retrieve and I needed photos. Coat pocket searched and hell, no camera. My mind retraces the steps where I had last taken photos and it was at Harry Hall marsh; thus a retrace of that hunt today. When I got back to that marshes’ boat launch site, my plan was to use my very bright headlamp in hopes the light would shine glare off the shinny cameras’ body in the dim early morning darkness. I had tossed my coat on the bag of decoys after unloading them from the boat so it could somewhat dry before putting in the Jeep. That was the first place I shinned the light looking for the lost object. Surprise/surprise in less than 30 seconds I found it. Lucky me. It was wet with dew, but this waterproof model of Nikon Coolpix preformed perfectly. Camera found Jazz and I proceed on with our hunt.

L. L. Bean decoys in sunrise.
L. L. Bean decoys in sunrise.

It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Jazz says he’s had a great day, 60-75 degree day with cool, but not freezing-cold water. Nice, and not too long of swims to fetch eight big old mallards. And Master found his foolishly lost camera. Lucky him. I, on the other hand have had a lousy shooting day, too many shots I’m embarrassed to say. But finally got the eight bird daily limit.

Whoa! Get a grip Mr. Gore. You are out in a stunning prairie pothole marsh, weather is warm, you’re not freezing your butt off, and you have taken a limit of mallards. And it’s before noon. How many times have you been out ALL DAY and gotten nothing or only one or two ducks?

You’ve seen lots of ducks, many geese, meadowlarks and wrens have sung for you, and the sun is not burning your eyes out. Seems like a day you should be a little gracious and give thanks. As I have written those last few paragraphs, I had one hen mallard land in the decoys and two greenheads cruise low overhead between the decoys and me. For Pete’s sake, what the matter with me? The mysteriously lost camera was again possessed and morning pictures taken of Jazz,  the hunt, and a beautiful sunrise backlighting L.L. Bean cork decoys. IT HAS BEEN A GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING. I’m very lucky.

Jay Gore

September 24, 2014,  Somewhere,  Alberta

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