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The many joys of early autumn

by Warren Illi
| September 14, 2023 12:00 AM

Ah September, one of my favorite months of the year. Our days are warm and sunny, with crisp cool nights and tons of opportunities to go hunting, fishing, hiking or camping.

Last week I fished.

Fishing was slow, but I did manage to catch some perch, bass and one lonely Kokanee. The perch were few and far between, but nice sized 11-inch fish. I didn’t have enough leaded core line on my reel to get down to the 30 foot depth where my fish finder said there were lots of fish, probably Kokanee. They were just above a well-defined thermocline.

I couldn’t go hunting last week because my truck was in the body shop being repaired due to some bad luck. Last winter, I was attending a meeting at a local motel and parked next to an old truck. I didn’t realize that old truck was being used by a homeless person who was trying to keep warm with an open flame heater. Unfortunately the heater caught his truck on fire, which burned fiercely, scorching my nearby truck. Anyway, $18,000 later, my truck is finally repaired and now I am able to do what I love to do most, hunting and fishing.

There has been lots of recent media coverage about our local homeless problem, with some citizens saying homelessness doesn’t affect most of us in Kalispell. Not so in my case!

September is also a prime time to gather in some firewood for the approaching winter. The Forest Service will give you a free firewood permit covering most Forest Service land in Montana. I think that permit is also good for forested BLM land. Next to hunting and fishing, I love to cut firewood. One aspect of firewood cutting is I never get skunked. Cutting firewood is hard work for my old body, but very satisfying.

Naturally, if you head into the mountains for firewood, it would be sinful not to take a gun along in the event you bump into some grouse picking gravel on a logging road. Last September, I made a joint wood cutting and grouse hunting trip with my friend, Mike. We filled his truck with bone-dry buckskin larch firewood and several grouse. A great fall day with a good friend in the mountains.

This week is my week to do a bunch of honey-do things around our home and cabin. Last week, my lovely wife gave me a honey-do list. Digging our crop of potatoes was on that list. So one afternoon I headed out to dig potatoes from our garden. It had been a cool rainy day. But then the sun broke through the clouds and I could feel the warm late summer sun on my bald head. It was glorious! So out came my lawn chair and I just basked in the late summer sunlight. I didn’t get the potatoes dug, but not surprisingly, that job waited for me. One of the joys of being retired is the enjoyment of doing nothing.

My wife and I have a fun outdoor month ahead of us. Later this month we head to our farm to do some fall farm chores and hunt sharptail grouse. On the way to the farm, we will play tourist for a day or two. We will drive south of U.S. 2 to the Missouri River to experience crossing that river on one of the three ferries run by the state. We have talked about doing that for years, but just haven’t taken the time to do it. Then, as long as we are along the river, we will view some elk rutting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service manages the million-acre C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge which provides some of the finest elk hunting in Montana. It is mid-September, so the elk are in the midst of their fall rut when bulls gather harems of cows for breeding. Harems can be just a few cows or sometimes up to two to four dozen cows. The big bulls want to do all the breeding, so they bugle to warn smaller bulls to stay away from their cows. They don’t want to share their ladies. For some reason which I don’t understand, many cows and bulls are concentrated in a small area just off of U.S. 191, east of the Fred Robinson bridge, on the north side of the Missouri River. Most of the million acre CMR is open to archery hunting at this time of year. But the USFWS has set aside a few hundred acres as just an elk viewing area, no hunting. It is one of the most spectacular wildlife events in Montana. Where else can you be surrounded by hundreds of elk, with giant bulls screaming or bugling. After watching and filming this elk spectacular, we will continue to our farm for some sharptail hunting, then on to Minnesota to enjoy some fall fishing and fall coloration.

So, I hope you have some plans to enjoy the great Flathead Outdoors during this fall season.