High Above Rock Creek

upper willowTodd and I managed to sneak out last weekend for some time in the mountains above Rock Creek. It had been numerous years since I’d visited the place, but things had not changed. The road up was rocky and bouncy as in the past. We fortunately had no problems. On top I threw some clay pigeons so someone could eliminate the rust in his swing.campThis actually went quite well and it was not long until clays were breaking high above the drainage. We then drove south parallel to the creek. I notice no one on the crossing to where we intended to camp. This is a fairly remote area but typically this time of year there are a few bow hunters about. It was dark when we found the old site. Someone had graciously left a nice pile of firewood between two Lodgepole pines. I almost felt guilty splitting the wood, but in fairness we also had brought along some pieces from an old dead Aspen I had cut up a few seasons ago in the back yard. I did not bring the chainsaw this trip, though the thought had entered my mind prior to leaving. It’s nice to replace what one uses as I’m somewhat certain the folks who left the wood in the camp would probably be returning in a few weeks to hunt for elk. Mr. Todd managed to break my axe handle by directly hitting the block he was chopping with the blade and handle landing flat (does that make sense?). At any rate, he spent a few moments ringing his hands from the unpleasant vibration while I checked the split handle. We managed to get a nice fire going none the less.rock creek grouse huntingAs someone turned in I stayed up reading and looking into the red embers. It was a lovely cool evening with a bright moon which cast shadows about in the surrounding forest. It was odd as some of the moonlight reflected off of the surrounding trees in the distance creating a hue that almost looked as though there was another camp set up in the distance. Trees scratched back and forth against one another. At one point our Lab wandered off forcing me to wake up the world with a loud whistle. No dog. Finally, I heard the collar clanking as she returned. She has trouble seeing in the dark. It is odd to watch her at home stop on every step almost feeling her way down when the lights are turned off. I’ve owned many dogs over the years. This is a new first. Listening to the wind and the last of the fire, having been doused, I turned in. My Thermarest leaked which meant part of the night tossing and turning on the ground.todd r ckThe next morning Todd managed to keep the dog out of his pancakes, a lesson learned after watching her abscond with one of his hotdogs the night prior. I had some pumpkin oatmeal which hit the spot. We set off through a section where I’ve had some success over the years finding birds. Not much has changed. The spring is still there. The same old burns are there as well, though they are gradually seeing signs of new growth between the remaining charred stands. Renewal. Nature. We were too late this season to take advantage of the abundant berries which typically hold many Mountain Grouse. During the morning we did not see a bird. Nor did we see big game. Nor did we see sign of big game. Grouse hunting in Montana, for me at least, is partially about scouting for the fall large game opener. Todd sat high above what looked like an avalanche path, but probably was nothing more than another of the odd rock formations that are found in the area. It was a pretty warm Sunday morning, odd for this time of year. I mentioned we could go off of the back or walk back to the vehicle and drive to another road I used to hunt. He chose to head back to the truck and try another section. We drove to the “Administrative Use Only” gate (translation, no driving beyond), parked and walked in. I explained one year having seen a large elk along the road. This was in the early nineties. It actually surprised me while I was looking for birds. A beautiful animal with a magnificent rack. I had stopped hunting in the area long ago, however, due to the less than savory drive to get in which can be perilous in bad conditions. Walking out this road, I stopped to glass some distant fields noting nothing. Animals are probably in the timber during the mid afternoon, I thought to myself. Someone had some homework, so we only walked for about forty five minutes or so, turning around among a lovely level section with lush greenery along the forest’s floor. The pines are just beginning to turn, though it is only truly noticeable at the higher elevations. Along the walk back, I notice two light aircraft which appeared to be chasing one another, playing, above us as we walked. Single engine jobs, not being a plane buff, I hazard to guess their make. Seemed vintage to some extent though. “Every time I’ve been hunting lately, it’s been bad luck,” my son said looking down at his size twelve boots as we went. The feet led, but things appear to now be filling out. “No son, you’ve understandably not been putting forth the effort over the last numerous seasons. Every weekend has been dedicated to high school or club events. This fall you are not playing club, so maybe you will be able to get out more often. Eventually, things come together. It is to a large extent a time game, hunting, though the numbers during the last numerous years to appear to have been a little discouraging overall,” I reassured while looking into the trees above the road and listening to the two mechanical birds overhead. Is that not the way it is with most things? Enthusiasm, time, experience and additional application. It takes the former to apply the latter. Ironically, both of us totally oblivious, a single small grouse lifted from our left and flew directly in front and above us. “Is that a grouse?” “Yes, what are you waiting for?” So, in a flash, the conversation went. In fairness, it was pretty small, maybe causing some confusion. It landed in a tree and he was able to harvest the bird. The dog was left in the vehicle for this walk, exhausted from the morning’s work. So we hiked below the road in the deadfall looking for the downed bird. I missed not having the Lab there to do this work. An important part of the deal. Well, as one can imagine, someone’s tone immediately changed. Once back to the vehicle, Todd dressed the bird. “I don’t think this will be as traumatic as in the past,” he said. “We just opened up rats in anatomy.” It was I nice review, as the last episode for field dressing something was an antelope many season’s ago. Fortunately the drive out was uneventful. One year I blew a tire on the way out. I wanted to fish Rock Creek, as it was gorgeous. Sunny and warm. Numerous fishermen were having at it. I had mentioned to Molly leaving the day prior it would be a “blast and cast” trip, knowing pretty well though that homework would probably dictate matters late Sunday. No worries, we drove home quite content.todd grouseMonday evening Erin and I went to the range to sight in the rifles for the antelope season opener this weekend. Hopefully it will be another fun junket ‘over the slope.’deer ck erin

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