Game Range Ramblin's
Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder
March 29, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson
Meriwether Lewis, having never visited the Blackfoot River before the summer of 1806, and having no written accounts to guide him, instantly recognized the distinction between the Big Blackfoot River and the North Fork of the Blackfoot River when he first explored them.
Last Saturday, Sharon and I learned that such aptitude should not be taken for granted, when we encountered a stranded kayaker at Aunt Molly Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
We had been minding our own business, puttering along on the dirt road leading south from Ovando, killing time before dusk, at which time we planned to hustle back and classify white-tailed deer on Blanchard Creek Road. We practiced on some mule deer we saw on the North Fork Hill. Eight adults and five fawns in that bunch, as far as we could tell. Even at a distance of only 50 yards, it's no sure thing to accurately classify fawns that are nine months old.
Though I'm sure Lewis never hesitated.
But, his name hadn't yet come to mind as we drove leisurely onward in the mid-afternoon sunshine, now catching sight of dozens of pintails crowded together on the first, shimmering pools of standing snowmelt. Then more pintails, swimming and in flight, here, there and everywhere.
We kept moving southward, just two miles past the muddy trail to Browns Lake, then turned due east on the Cutoff Road. Now white-tailed deer entered the picture, along with Canada geese and mallards. More water, and more pintails trying to cover all of it.
We continued on the Cutoff Road for about two miles and crossed the old steel bridge across the Blackfoot River. Just a hundred yards or so on the other side, we pulled into the crude little parking area that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) maintains for people to access the river and hike or hunt on Aunt Molly WMA.
Sharon and I had barely released Jake from his bed in the back of the pickup before we heard someone call to us. Actually, he was calling to Sharon, I hope.
"Ma'am. Excuse me, ma'am."
We'd hardly seen a soul all day. And, you normally don't go to Aunt Molly to be sociable. But, there he was, a young man walking slowly toward us, with no visible means of transportation, and no good reason we could think of.
"Can you tell me how to get to the highway?" he asked.
"Which one?" I had to reply. I wasn't trying to be cute. Route 141 is about three miles due east from Aunt Molly, and Route 200 is another mile-and-a-half north from there.
Well, he really didn't seem to know. But, one clue was that he had arrived at Aunt Molly by riding down the Blackfoot River in his kayak. And, he had begun his trip at the junction of Routes 200 and 141.
What he didn't seem to know was where he had left his car.
"I parked it on the highway at another bridge across the river, about four miles west of where I put in. I've been floating for seven hours. I don't know how, but I must have passed my car a long ways back."
Now this was a brain-teaser alright. Because the Blackfoot River and Route 200 part company quite soon after you head west from their junction with Route 141, at the mouth of the Lincoln Canyon. The Big Blackfoot winds for many, many, gorgeous river miles before finally returning within view of Route 200 again at the south end of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.
More patient than I, Sharon dug around behind the seat of the truck and pulled out a map. Once oriented, our new acquaintance let out a groan.
"Oh no! I parked at the bridge over the North Fork," he concluded.
That's when Lewis first came to mind. Because Lewis was probably the last fellow to do much paddling upstream in western Montana. And, our new acquaintance still faced quite a lengthy trip down the Blackfoot before he would strike its confluence with the North Fork, when his simulated spawning run upstream would then have to begin.
He had a long ways to go, and I sure didn't want to hold him up. Then, it finally dawned on me that he could save quite a bit of time by driving back on the highway with us. We needed to head back anyway if we were going to save enough of the evening to classify many deer at Blanchard Creek.
As we loaded Jake back up after his abbreviated romp, I heard my first sandhill cranes of the season, croaking like crazy just below the cottonwood tops where I couldn't quite see them.
Well, all's well that ends well. It turns out we did a favor for one of our own. Our wayward kayaker was the son of FWP's Block Management Coordinator in Region 7 (Miles City). No wonder our Block Management Program places such an emphasis on providing good maps to assist hunters.
'Cause we can't all be Meriwether Lewis, can we?