Saturday, July 20, 2024

Spring firewood gathering

by Warren Illi
| April 18, 2024 12:00 AM

Spring is here in the Flathead with its ever-expanding variety of outdoor activities. Last weekend was just too nice to stay indoors, so I had to do a little hiking just to get out and soak up some spring sunshine. Most of our lower elevation forest lands are snow free. If you want to take a little drive in the hills, I would recommend taking a snow shovel in case you encounter some remaining deep snow drifts on a shaded north or east facing slope.

My wife and I always enjoy a spring drive around the Lower Valley with its numerous wetlands to watch an amazing variety of waterfowl. Ducks, especially the male ducks, are decked out in their bright spring colors as they try to romance the lady ducks. A good starting place to watch waterfowl is Church Slough on the Lower Valley Road. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars.  Also be aware that some state and federal wildlife lands are off-limit to hiking in order not to bother breeding wildlife. Let me give you an example.

A few years ago, I decided to do some spring turkey hunting in the valley. I had never hunted the Kuhns Wildlife Management Area, located just northwest of Kalispell. So early one spring morning I took myself, my shotgun and turkey call to hunt this area. I hunted for a couple hours, blew my turkey call several times, but I couldn’t raise a turkey. I was surprised that no other hunter was hunting this local public land. 

The next week, I wrote an article for the Daily Inter Lake, about my turkey hunting attempt. I also noted that I had this nice piece of public land to myself. A day or so after my article was published, I received a nice call from a FWP game warden who politely explained the Kuhns wildlife area is a winter range for whitetail deer, so it is off limits for all human use until late spring. That explained the absence of other hunters! 

So, in my writings for the Inter Lake, I always attempt to inform readers that it is their responsibility to know fish and game laws. I don’t want to misinform folks.

According to my copy of the 2024 hunting regulations, spring bear season opened on April 15, as did the spring turkey gobbler (male) season. I go out every spring to look for black bears. For me, spring bear season is mostly a reason to load your rifle and get out in the hills to enjoy our spring. I usually have my chain saw along to cut any trees that have fallen across our wild land roads during the winter season. If it is good firewood, then I like to cut this easy-to-get firewood. But don’t forget to get a firewood permit in advance. The Forest Service has generously given out free annual firewood permits since the pandemic, but I don’t know if wood cutting permits will be free again this year. Be sure you are on public land where your permit is valid. Also, don’t forget to include your .22 rifle in case you bump into a colony of gophers that need thinning. 

Cutting firewood is hard work, but I find it so satisfying to see my pickup truck with a load of dry firewood. I will likely die with a 25-year supply of cut, split and dry firewood at my cabin. For 20 or more years we burned firewood at our home as our primary source of heat, so that necessitated cutting several cords of firewood each year. Our two sons really enjoyed going to our lake cabin every weekend from spring to late fall. 

But I have to admit that cutting firewood on most Saturday mornings was not on the top of their list of their favorite cabin activities. I explained to them that firewood cutting builds character. But they were too smart to buy that reasoning. 

One spring day I had a pickup load of unsplit firewood dumped behind my cabin. That weekend my son, Mike, was at the cabin with two friends. After a morning of fishing, the boys and I were behind the cabin. The boys were about 15 years old. I selected a piece of firewood without any obvious branching or other deformity that would hinder a clean split. One good wack from my wood splitting maul and the firewood was cleanly split. 

I then challenged the boys to see whether they were man enough to split firewood with only one wack of the splitting maul. They accepted the challenge and began to split the firewood to prove their manhood. Then, they challenged each other to see who could split the most consecutive chunks of wood with one swing of the maul. This manhood testing competition continued for an hour. By then all the firewood was split. 

Steve, the kid who lived next door to us in Kalispell, walked over to me and said, “Mr. Illi, I just realized our splitting contest just got all your firewood split.” Steve was a smart young man! He is now a chemical engineer and executive for the Intel Corporation in Portland. I enjoy hunting with him when he returns to Montana to hunt each fall.

I plan to spend some time at my cabin this week for some spring fishing, perhaps some firewood cutting and perhaps some hunting. I will admit I am in the market for a power wood splitter since I no longer have sons and their friends to assist me. Have a great week in the Flathead Outdoors.