It’s September and I’m beginning to think we’re going to make it through this hot, smoky summer of drought and pestilence.
We had some meaningful rain in August, which helped clear our skies and dampen our forest fires. We’re not out of the woods yet (pun intended) but I have hopes.
Best of all, the first of Montana’s general hunting seasons open today, as hunters across Montana wiped the dust off their shotguns and loaded up their bird dogs and headed to the prairies, aspens, and mountains in search of prairie and mountain grouse, European gray partridge, or Hungarian partridge if you prefer, mourning doves, even wild turkeys. Don’t jump the gun; pheasant season doesn’t start until October 9. Waterfowl season will open on October 2.
Also, there will be a weekend for youth waterfowl and pheasant hunting, which will be September 25 and 26.
I’m not an archery hunter, but archery deer and elk seasons begin on Saturday, September 4.
In other words, there will be a lot of people out and about on this Labor Day weekend.
October 24 may seem a long two months away, but a lot of people already have this date circled on their calendars, as this is when this year’s general (i.e. firearms) deer and elk season begins.
In normal years, I look at September as this magic month, when fishing is still great and hunting is beginning, but with the severe drought, fishing has been a challenge this past month, as drought forced closures, hoot owl rules and all the other stuff we’ve been going through. So, we can celebrate the beginning of hunting seasons and hope we get rain so fishing improves, as well as to reduce the danger of wildfires in our hunting areas.
What is the outlook for this year’s hunting seasons? That’s a good question. Last winter was relatively mild, so that wildlife had it easy, as far as coming through the hard months of winter and were in good shape in springtime.
On the other hand, we went directly from mild winter to a dry spring and a hot and arid summer. Wildlife habitat is hurting and food for many of our game species is in short supply. There have already been reports of deer leaving their usual late summer haunts and coming into towns to dine on urban greenery.
The young chicks of pheasants and prairie grouse need grasses and weedy cover for food and shelter, and that, again, connects back to rainfall. Mountain grouse will, I suspect, have things a bit easier. I also suspect that the rain of the last couple weeks may have spurred some late season growth of ground cover.
Still, that’s speculation. It’s all a guessing game until the seasons start and we get out and start walking.
For my part, my wife and I will be camping and walking the mountainsides for dusky grouse (or blues, if you prefer) in the morning and wading a trout stream in the afternoons or evenings.
When these seasons start, I always feel a little unsure about heading for the hills. I’ve been in the geezer sub-segment of our population for more than a few years and I’m all too aware that there may not be many more hunting seasons in my future.
Happily, every September, I’ve been able to trudge across those sagebrush ridges and aspen thickets in pursuit of grouse, watching Kiri, my black Lab, rummaging around for interesting scents that sometimes lead to a flushing bird.
If I wonder how many hunting seasons are in my future, I also wonder how many hunting seasons are in Kiri’s future. She is now six years old, in the prime of life for a bird dog. Sadly, that prime of life is just a few short years before they begin their long decline.
Happily, dogs don’t worry about things. When we start those first walks of the season, Kiri will be happy and carefree, doing what she was born to do, and for both of us, life is good.
Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.