From Skiing to Turkeys – Springtime in Montana

The transition from winter to spring keeps dragging, though it’s a process that’s unstoppable, even as snowflakes drift down, seemingly almost daily.

Though it has been an outstanding ski season, ski hills are closing down. Discovery Basin closed last Sunday. Lost Trail Powder Mountain, west of Wisdom, closes this coming Sunday, April 10. Bridger Bowl, north of Bozeman, is extending the season through April 12, though they closed a few lifts on April 3. Maverick Mountain hadn’t posted a season ending date on their website as of press deadline.  I’ve heard that Big Sky will be operating through the middle of April, so that will be the place to go in this part of Montana if you need that one last ski trip to tide you through the summer.

Appropriately, on the morning of March 25, which turned out to be my last ski trip of the season, the sound of robins chirping around the neighborhood greeted me when I stepped outside. It always seems like the robins make it to our part of the world prematurely, and that March arrival was a case in point, considering that we had snow showers daily for most of the following week.

Another sign of spring is that this Saturday, April 9, is the beginning of the Montana spring turkey hunting season, coinciding with another sign of spring, my annual gripe about again not being drawn for a Region 3 permit.

Out of curiosity, I contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to find out what the odds were. There were 35 general adult permits allotted for Region 3 and there were 359 entries for the drawing, making the odds roughly 1 in 10 for winning a permit. Those odds are a lot better than getting rich in the Powerball lottery, of course, though with those odds you’d think that after 15 years or so I might someday luck out.

This brings to mind a cartoon of a few years back showing a man in a hospital bed, legs raised in traction and tubes everywhere, with his wife at the bedside going through a stack of mail, saying, “Oh, here’s some good news. You got your elk tag.”

My math-minded adult children might give me a lecture in statistics demonstrating that in a true random drawing your chances of winning never improve. It is, after all, random. To which I might say, “Don’t try to make me feel better. It’s not working.” I’ll have to try to clear a few days on my calendar and maybe get away to points east where a special permit isn’t needed.

If we get tired of the slow progress of spring, continuing cool weather does mean that this year’s big load of snow in the high country is staying in place a little longer. One of the symptoms of climate change here in the northern mountain states has been earlier melting of snowpack, meaning the mountains are tinder dry by August, a common scenario in many recent seasons.

Cool weather also means that area rivers, such as the Big Hole, may be fishable for a little while longer, before serious spring runoff starts. April is the time for early hatches, such as the skwala stonefly and the baetis, or blue wing olive mayfly, depending on whether you like your bugs with a bit of Latin.

With occasional warm days or April showers happening, rivers can bounce up and down with surges of runoff and an excellent tool to help plan spring fishing is the U.S. Geological Survey water data website, which tracks stream flows at numerous gauging stations on Montana rivers and streams. It won’t tell you whether the fish are biting, but it will help you figure out if things are fishable, or if the water is likely to be high and muddy.

In any event, depending on your interests there are a lot of possibilities this month. Turkey hunting, flyfishing, early gardening, symphony concerts, and…there was something else, too, wasn’t there?.

Oh, file tax returns. You had to remind me.

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