Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's Getting Unbearable up Here

With the huge increase in the bear population in WI, more bear encounters are becoming common.

During bow season a few weeks ago, I was up in my tree stand when a couple does came in range. I wasn't too interested in them, but they seemed very nervous, which usually means another deer (maybe a trophy buck!) is near by.

They passed by eventually and as it was almost dark I started lowering my bow to the ground using a rope. As I was hand under hand lowering the bow very quietly I continued to watch the does to make sure I didn't spoke them and give away my hiding spot to them.

With the bow about 5 feet from the ground I looked down to make sure it wasn't hanging up in any limbs or hitting the trunk of the tree. There, right below me was a small black bear. The bow was right above his head as he/she was sniffing the ground picking up my scent. I quickly started to raise my bow and it heard the soft rattle of it grazing the tree. It looked up but could not distinguish me, nor smell me. He continued to nose around and started to smell the tree pegs I used to get up the tree. After a few minutes I had enough so I shuffled my feet, growled and finally had to literally tell him to "get the hell out of here" before it decided it was time to leave.

I don't know how he walked in on me without me seeing him, but due to my tree "blind" I have areas where if something walks straight in from certain directions, it can come in unnoticed, obviously. It looked like a fuzzy caterpillar. It was a young one with short legs and small woolly body.

When I first bought my land, I had a bear in a den we discovered during hunting season. All winter long I brought friends and family to peer into the den to see the hibernating bear.

During rifle deer season, it's not uncommon to see bears nor their many tracks if we have snow. In most cases they have not denned up for hibernation. As we make many drives to push deer, we cover a lot of ground and bear sightings and sign is noticed often with not much more than a causal comment.

One day this last rifle season my cousin decided to take a doe that had walked out of the woods on the edge of a farmers field that hunts with us. He hit the doe but did not kill it and instead of risking pushing to too much as he found a lot of blood as it ran back into the tall grass and trees, decided we'd come back in the morning and find it. As it was well below freezing the deer would keep fine.....we thought.

When we came back in the morning. my cousin and the farmer were tracking it with a few of us posted up in case it was not yet dead and it tried to run off. After a bit I could hear my cousin talking loud and rather abruptly. I walked the 200 or so yards to where they were standing after I could make out the words "a bear found it".

Seems as they were tracking the doe they looked ahead 30-40 yards and saw a suspicious mound of grass that did not have any frost on it. My cousin approached it and discovered a large pile of grass which seemed to be covering something. He pulled some off and there was the doe with one complete hind quarter gone.

The farmer then took us over to an area where he had piled up stumps and dirt in clearing some woods to expand his field. He had noticed a bear in that area earlier in the summer and it had dug out a huge den, large enough for 2 of us to crawl into. It had to have been a pretty good sized to make this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Deer Rifle Season 2008

Well, not much to report. I never fired a shot. Deer count is way down with timber wolf and cougar sightings way up. We still got 2 bucks and I was involved in both.
The first was a simple drive where 7 of us made a drive with 4 drivers and 3 posters. One poster, Paul, climbed about 40 feet up in a tall spruce tree and when a doe and decent 8 pointer came in range he took out the buck.
The other was another drive with 8 guys. The same guy that got the buck before was driving next to me on my right with 2 other guys toward 4 posters.
When a buck jumped up in tag alder swamp at almost point blank range he took a couple shots with his Winchester 30-30 before it went back between us. I noticed the deer ran back kinda funny, the noise being different than when they usually take off and sure enough, Paul had wounded him.
Paul found a spot or 2 of blood and small piece of blood on the ice where the deer slipped. Long story short with virtually no snow, we tracked him for 2.5 hrs. and 1/2 mile through swamp, grasses and woods, at times only using the muffed up leaves and grasses to follow his track. At one point he had gotten in my footprints and backtracked on them for 1-200 yards.
Paul and I worked as a team to stay on the trail and with the use of my cell phone silently texting my cousin where to go to try to head him off, he got a standing shot at the buck and finished him off.
Paul's original shot hit the deer's left front foot just above the dew claws. The gang was impressed with our tracking were we kinda.
I should have taken some pics, but didn't as I was off as soon as we got the deer out to go sit on a stand for the last hr. of daylight.
It was a nice 7 pointer.

Deer caught on camera but not seen during rifle season during the day. I did see the spike and small 6 point during bow season, but more on that after the last bow season is over.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Kayaking Montanta Rivers

Heading out from WI.

Montana Water: Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Middle Fork Flathead Rivers

Blackfoot River
This series of stories is the water adventure part of a 2006 trip to Montana, Glacier Park and the Canadian Rockies. I kayaked the Blackfoot River one afternoon as a warm-up to some better water to come on the Clark Fork River west of Missoula.

The Blackfoot was a gentle float with some small drops. The water level was good and moving well. Of possible interest, where I put-in was a sign that stated signs of Meriwether Lewis’s trip east from the Pacific could still be seen near the river. I never did see any of the "signs" but I didn't spend much time looking either, so will have to take their word for it.
As for the river, it was moving very nicely due to some decent rains the past few days. The section I kayaked did not have much for rapids, a few Class I's and maybe one that could be considered a Class II. Was a really nice relaxing float.

Alberton Gorge

A couple days later I got on the Clark Fork and specifically the Alberton Gorge section, which contains up to a Class IV rapids. I decided to take the rafting trip in the morning to scout the rapids. I got to talk to the raft guide regarding each rapids and how to approach them and what to watch out for. He was very helpful. As we talked, I learned that he too was from WI and grew up in a town about 15 miles from where I was currently living. We talked about me tagging along with the next rafting trip and having them kind of watch out for me. The guide was somewhat hesitant to do this as of course they have paying customers in the raft that are their first priority and they don’t want to commit themselves into doing something they can’t really do. They are also concerned about the ability of the kayaker. If they agree to help someone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing it could be a bad deal for everyone. But, and this was planned, not only did I want to scout the rapids rafting, but I felt it would a lot easier to get buy in on them helping me if actually took the rafting trip with them, as well. It was decided I’d start down the rive to see how it went for the first couple miles and before I got to the bigger rapids talk to the guides at a resting spot and decide at that point what to do.

My plan became to take my mountain bike to the take out at Tarkio FAS (Forest Access Site) in the hopes of kayaking the full length of the Gorge, about 11 miles, then ride it back to get my Jeep then go back and get the kayak. A bit of messing around and back and forth, but I wanted the bike ride and I like being as independent as possible, as well.

I put in about 30 minutes before the next rafting group at Cyr FAS and kayaked to Ledge Rapids. Things went well but I hadn't gone through anything too difficult, yet either. I felt my skill level would allow me to continue on assuming I could get a little commitment out of the guide to save me if I got into it too deep and it was life and death. After talking to the guide about this, we decided that he’d help me out as best he could. I was ok with that.

We started out. Well, it was a great float for me. The biggest water I ever was in. The guide would give me instructions well before the rapids and then I stayed back about 75-100 yards from the raft and just followed him through. We’d meet up and talk through the next one if we had a chance, otherwise I just tried to watch how he took the raft went through and mirrored his approach.

We came up to Tumbleweed, considered to be the toughest rapid in the stretch by most. I hit it hard and fast, keeping my paddle in the water as much as possible. This does a number of things. It gives the kayaker another point of contact and control. One has thigh braces just inside the cockpit and these combined with foot pegs and your actual seat make up what most would consider the tools to stabilize the boat. But, having that paddle in the water and using it as a fulcrum point, or brace as is called in the sport, a few feet from the boat comprises what I feel is the best way to stay upright. So I tried to maintain a strong steady stroke into the teeth of the biggest water. Some folks freeze and just try to ride it out, paddle not in the water, and to me that is not good. Also, consider that forward motion, as with riding a bike, greatly improves balance, so decent speed helps. Speed also helps in maneuvering the kayak because if you're going the same speed as the water, maneuvering is not possible. Sometimes back stroking, to go slower than the water is what is needed and this works as good or better even than forward motion to steer the boat.

So, I hit Tumbleweed and the first big wave slaps my face and washes over my head. No time to get the cold water out of my eyes as I keep the paddle moving and pulling me forward. The force of the water as it rolls over on its self creating a standing wave tries to stall my forward motion so I dig deeper and pull stronger, trying not to let it grab me. If it would have succeeded, I probably would have been washed sideways in the hydraulic and rolled over.

This is where the guide company takes pictures and the 4 posted show my progress through Tumbleweed.

As I busted through the last wave everyone in the raft cheered and even the guide had big smile on his face. We then headed down the last couple of rapids, confident that I have good chance of acing the river.

As we came up on Fang, which was the last rapid, the raft that’s now about 50 yards in front of me disappears. It no more than drops into a huge hole than it gets shot out the other side and into the waiting roller. In the time it takes for me to witness this, I’m dropping over the edge into the same hole. I’m stroking hard and as I come back up and hit the roller and I pull free of its hold. I made it!

Suddenly, I’m being lifted straight up in the water. As I’m lifted up, in what I call the river "breathing", I start to go over. I had stopped paddling because I thought I was through Fang so I lost all my forward momentum as compared to the river speed. I learned later this rapid, in it’s attempt to force it's self through this narrow, canyon, raises and lowers due to it’s tight and constricted location between the high walls of the canyon. The water backs up, slows, then surges forward. I hit it as it was backing up, or breathing, which stopped my forward momentum. I reached out to the side that I was falling to to try to hit the water with the flat of my paddle, to brace, keep myself upright to keep from tipping.  The water was so oxygenated my paddle could not get enough purchase of solid water and over I went. I fought my way out of the kayak (I didn't and still don't know how to roll!) and started to swim to the surface when a wave forced me to toward the bottom. I remember trying to push off the bottom but I never touched. As I was rolled and tumbled I wasn’t sure if I pushed myself toward the river bottom or the surface in my efforts. I opened my eyes and looked around and started swimming toward daylight. As soon as I popped to the surface the guide from WI was there. He had brought a different group down the river on riverboards in front of the raft that I had followed down and they were all waiting on the downriver side of Fang for the last raft and me to come through. He directed me to grab him and we swam to the edge of the canyon walls and climbed up on the rocks. Other folks had snagged my kayak and they were ferrying it over for me.

I finished out the float lazily paddling down to the take out, the rafters playing far behind me, jumping off the sides of the raft and swimming in the river before being pulled back in by fellow rafters. Once I got to my bike I took off. The guides had offered to throw my kayak on the back of their trailer but the trailer was full, so I drove back with my Jeep, grabbed the yak and headed for the nearest liquor store. I picked up a couple cases of brew and dropped it off at the ranch the guides were all staying at. I had a beer with them, thanked them for their help and slipped them a decent tip.

It was as great day!

Middle Fork Flathead River

By now my wife had flown out to Missoula and we had made our way to Glacier Park and our impending motorcycle ride through Glacier and up to Canada. But we wanted to spend some time on the water. We rafted together on the Middle Fork of the Flathead, which is the west boundary of Glacier Park. I studied it similar to what I did in the Alberton Gorge. This river was not nearly as big nor are the rapids as Clark Fork, but they still deserved one’s attention.

After we rafted the river, we took off on the motorcycle for 9 days and finished that part of our vacation. After my wife flew home from Edmonton, I came back to Whitefish, where the Jeep and kayak were left, and headed out to kayak the Flathead and then head home myself. Again, I talked to a local rafting company, the same one my wife and I used, and as they were having a slow day, they had no problem assigning a guide to me that was taking a couple of folks out.

A raft on the Flathead.

We had a nice float down the river. My confidence level was high as the river was just the right size to do a little playing but still very challenging and the views of the mountains in the distance were great. As we drifted down the river the guide, his clients and I had the opportunity to talk and share a few stories. At one point, the guide actually asked me to go down rapids first and hang out in the eddy as he wanted to try a maneuver at a certain spot and wanted me to be his safety valve in case something went awry. I felt I had somewhat arrived with that request!
Leaving Glacier Park

Recommend reading:
A Falcon Guide: Paddling Montana by Hank and Carol Fisher