Monday, December 06, 2021

A weekend roaming the woods

| November 7, 2021 12:00 AM

It’s been a few years since I’ve been hunting — and when I say “hunting” I mean traipsing 10 paces behind my husband, the one with the gun putting the sneak on the game. I’m in it for the high country hikes, the camaraderie and to supply a second set of eyeballs.

It had been pouring rain all day the Friday we drove our trailer out to Middle Thompson Lake to camp. The rain was blowing sideways as we parked but a ribbon of blue sky was rapidly widening and stretching our way. By the time we were parked the setting sun had set the ceiling of clouds, and the lake, on fire.

The next morning we headed out in the pickup before first light under a cover of heavy mist — a combination of the chill in the air, the resulting lake effect from the Thompson Chain of Lakes, and the previous day’s heavy rains. We parked on a Forest Service road and hiked up an unmarked logging road, scanning the hillside above us. By mid-morning the mist had begun to rise on the thermals — we could see it floating in curtains right in front of us and across the mountains in the distance. As the sun took hold, we clamored up a steep hillside and hunkered down to see what might come through the partially wooded rocky hillside while being entertained by a Clark’s nutcracker perching conspicuously on the tip of the leader of a tall pine, meticulously pecking out the seeds of a pine cone.There was a good-sized group of these loquacious birds flitting among the trees around us.

While visiting Crater Lake in Oregon earlier this year, we’d learned the species’ seed caches are key to the survival of the whitebark pine, whose cones do not open on their own and which are in sharp decline across the Northwest due to a fungus they’re highly susceptible to called blister rust.

Seeing only does, an abandoned carved pumpkin on the road and, even more oddly, a bowling pin on a stump off in the distance, we arrived back at the camper just before sunset with big appetites and to enjoy some evening libations and laughter.

The lake effect was still fogging the roadway and the temperature was loitering in the teens Sunday morning as we headed for a new hunting spot. It was 15 degrees when we left the truck and started hiking up another gated logging road, but there wasn’t a cloud to be seen nor the slightest drift of wind. We were hiking along a southern slope so the sun was shining on us and we hoped to spot some deer or elk bedded down in the warmth after grazing. It was an ideal situation — other than the fact that we didn’t see anything.

After a couple of hours hiking, we drove farther up the Forest Service road and chanced upon an incredible view of some of the Cabinet’s highest peaks roughly 20 miles west of us. We took one last hike through country that my husband was pleased with in terms of its future hunting potential, then drove back to the campground, which happened to be closing for the season that day. After loading up, we walked out on the dock and were surprised to see a dozen or more bright red fish swimming nearby, hovering over the gravel, probably spawning.

Homeward bound, I thought our weekend was well spent — the miles, both road and hiking that we had under our belts, the crisp fall weather, and being, once again, part of Montana’s hunting tradition.

​​Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or