January’s Thoughts of Spring in Montana

The days are finally getting a little longer after the winter solstice. It seems as if those mornings are still mighty dark, but each day is slightly more than a minute longer than the day before, and in this coming week that will accelerate to about two minutes per day. It’s a slow process right now, though our days are currently about 15 minutes longer than they were on December 20.

As days get longer, the hunting season gets shorter. Of the general hunting seasons, the waterfowl season runs the latest, and right now it has just a couple days to go. Here in the Pacific Flyway area of Montana, the season for ducks and geese will close at sunset on Friday, January 13. In the Central Flyway, the duck season is already closed, and the goose season will close on Friday.

As the hunting seasons come to a close, it’s time to start thinking ahead.

Montana’s Smith River is one of Montana’s great treasures and a float trip on the Smith is an experience every outdoors-loving person should have on their bucket list. Many people consider the year a bummer if they don’t do the trip.

As most people familiar with the Smith know, all float trips on the Smith are by permit only, and the deadline for applying for a 2012 float permit is Wednesday, February 15. Applications may be submitted by mail or online at the Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.

A few cautions with the process are that applicants must be age 12 or older to apply. People who drew a 2011 permit for the most popular period of May 15 to July 15 must wait a year to apply for dates in that period, though they can apply for floating dates outside that period, as well as acquire a cancelled permit for cancelled launch dates or accompany another launch trip.

A change from a few years back is that pets are no longer permitted on Smith River float trips. This does not apply to service dogs and hunting dogs used for hunting purposes during legal hunting seasons.

If the 2011 hunting season is about done, that also means that it’s time to plan for the 2012 season. This month, FWP is holding a number of public meetings around the state to explain proposed changes in the 2012 hunting seasons and to give people the opportunity to comment on them.

In our area of southwester Montana, the first meeting is tonight, January 11, at the War Bonnet Inn (Quality Inn), here in Butte. Additional meetings will be on January 12, at the Search & Rescue Building in Dillon, January 17 at Lima High School in Lima, and January 18 at the AOH Hall in Anaconda. All meetings run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Also available at the FWP website is a full listing of proposed changes statewide. One item that caught my eye is a proposal to extend the season for mountain grouse to January 1 of each year, to be consistent with other upland bird seasons.

That Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, by the way, the portal for all that good information about…well, Montana’s fish, wildlife and parks, is fwp.mt.gov. It’s a good site to bookmark on your computer’s browser.

That unseasonably mild weather of last week (hopefully we’ll be past that by the time you’re reading this) might have been pleasant, though it also meant that Montana lost snowpack in January instead of increasing it. There’s still a lot of potential for the coming months, though as these days get longer it gets harder and harder to pile up the snow before the sun turns it back to liquid.

Still, for those who really dislike our northern winters, even when it’s as mild as it has been recently, and heading south isn’t an option, take heart.

As I pointed out already, the length of our days is steadily increasing and in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, many of us experienced a sure sign of approaching spring: the first gardening catalog of the season.

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