Did I mention that I love September?

Flicka in search of grouse last September

The days are shorter and the mornings are getting chilly, though chilly mornings are the norm rather than the exception here in the mountains of western Montana.

Is this the end of summer? I don’t think so, though while early September may not be the end of summer, it is the beginning of the end of summer.

To my mind, however, tomorrow is New Years Day. I know you won’t find many calendars marking tomorrow as a holiday but it is to me, because that first day of September is the first day of the 2011 Montana hunting season.

The upland bird season for grouse of various kinds, along with Hungarian partridge and wild turkeys opens tomorrow on the first day of September. On Saturday, September 3, big game archery seasons begin. Note, however, that the pheasant season doesn’t begin until October 8 and waterfowl seasons have not yet been set. The deer and elk rifle seasons will begin on October 22, but that’s a long time from now, so we won’t worry about that for now.

Still, I look ahead to chilly dawns on top of a western Montana mountain. There’s a haze in the air from a distant fire smoldering away, and as usual there are some questions in my mind. Every year, it seems that the mountains are higher and steeper, and I have to pause more frequently to catch my breath.

Those thoughts are a given. The major question running through my mind will be whether we’ll find birds somewhere on this walk through the mountaintop sagebrush meadows.

We had a late winter and a cold, rainy and snowy spring. Did those grouse chicks chip their way out of their eggshell, back in June, to find a sunny, early summer day, or was their first peek at the world a late spring storm? The answers to that question on thousands of mountains and millions of acres of prairie add up to what kind of days Montana hunters will experience when they take their first walks of the year in search of upland birds.

While the question of what Flicka, my black Labrador retriever and faithful hunting partner and I will find is still to be answered, rest assured we will be out there taking those morning hikes. It’s what we do, and, good lord willing, we’ll keep doing it as long as we’re able.

While I mentally begin to focus on shotgunning and upland birds in coming days and weeks, it’s a focus that often shifts to trout and flyfishing. For many anglers, the summer of 2011 has been a difficult and frustrating season with prolonged periods of spring runoff.

Now, at the end of summer, rivers are in prime shape for angling. The fish are feisty and robust after chowing down during all those weeks of high water. Fishing may not be easy right now, though it may be rewarding if you’re on the water at the right time.

Tricos, those diminutive mayflies of late summer, make their spinner flights to lay eggs on the water in mid to late mornings. When conditions are right, fish go nuts over the millions of bugs coming to the water. If you enjoy fishing light tackle and tiny flies, this can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year. Using #20 flies on a 6X leader isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it sure is fun when a good trout sips it in. Of course, for comic relief, this is also the season for hoppers. Take your choice.

In short, tomorrow is September and with early season hunting, late season flyfishing, ripening chokecherries and wild plums, there are more opportunities in the great outdoors than there is time in which to do it.

I kind of hate to see those sunsets getting earlier every evening and sunrises later every morning, but it’s the rhythm of the seasons and that rhythm beats with more urgency this time of year.

Did I mention that I love September?