September belongs
to the Locals

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


September 27, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson

Rainy Lake was still as glass last Saturday, reflecting the clear, blue sky, the rusty gray ramparts of the Swan Range, and the reflections of two belted kingfishers skimming the surface for fun, it seemed. But, as Sharon and I hurried to recognize all the sights and sounds in our first moments of observation, something seemed amiss in paradise. It was something far from shore, in the very heart of the deep lake.

Duck, goose, swan, fish, boat, litter, Loch Ness monster. Our minds reeled with the possibilities, until the quiet was finally broken by the long sweep of her arm and the soft splash of her stroke.

Yes, it was a mermaid.

My first unconscious impulse was to wonder how we would save her from drowning. A non-swimmer myself, I could not fathom how someone could have reached her position in the middle of the lake without the aid of a watercraft or airdrop. She wore or clutched no artificial floating device. But, Sharon reassured me that as long as she didn't panic, and continued to intersperse her swimming strokes with intervals of leisurely floating, our mermaid was in no danger whatsoever.

The longer we watched her, and the other young woman who joined her, the more we realized that panic was not an option. They belonged in that lake just as surely as the frogs and the mergansers. We watched them reach the shore, stretch in the sun for no more than a couple of minutes, and then swim clear back to their camp on the far shore. September 22nd, and a Montana mountain lake was still that warm!

Other than a rare splash from one of the swimmers, and Jake's none too graceful retrieves of his well worn tennis ball, very little unnatural noise interrupted our solitude or that of a small handful of other people around the lake. Thank goodness for this thing called Labor Day.

Being unprepared for swimming ourselvesor drowning as the case may bewe soon continued our explorations with a drive up Colt Creek. I thought I might get a look at a moose in Hunting District 285, which is now open to the exhilarations of two lucky hunters who drew special moose licenses this fall. Certainly, habitat for moose is present in Colt Creek, with dense spruce and lodgeplole armoring the steep banks overlooking a long ribbon of dogwood, mountain maple and alder. But, we didn't find any Bullwinkles sunning themselves in the mid-afternoon sun, nor did we really expect to. They would more likely be hidden in cover as we motored slowly by.

We parked at the gate just below Colt Lake and gave the dog another run up the old logging road. It didn't take us long to bust a covey of Franklin's grouse, also known as spruce grouse or fool hens.

Fool hens are just Jake's speed. Each stood patiently on the road or road edge while Jake systematically hit each scent trail, one by one, and followed each intently to within only a few feet of the now slightly concerned bird. Once Jake spotted each bird, it would take a few steps, giving the dog a little adrenaline kick, and then flush in front of his smiling face, landing on an overhanging limb for our continued observation. Then Jake would go back to work on the next one.

Franklin's grouse are game birds in Montana and the season is open. I was not tempted to shoot one for the pot, however, after my latest conversation with Mavis Lorenz, the noted outdoorswoman. I ran into Mavis at the Missoula FW&P office the other evening while she was instructing a women's hunter education course.

"I shot three grouse the other day," she told me. "Two ruffed and a Franklin's." She wrinkled up her nose and modulated her voice as she spit out the word, Franklin's. "I only got a couple bites of the Franklin's eaten, it was so tough," she said. "I'm gonna grind it up and try it as hamburger. Have you ever tried it in hamburger?" she asked. I had to say I had not.

Nor was I about to, despite Jake's valiant and repeated efforts. The birds had returned to the road by the time we made our way back to the truck, and Jake did his duty all over again before we left for the day. Each bird waited patiently to take its turn, much to Sharon's delight.

We finished our driving loop above Summit Lake, overlooking an expansive willow bottom where some of the moose in Hunting District 285 most surely live. But, it would be quite a challenge to hunt those thickets, especially when bull moose are rutting in early October, and then to pack hundreds of pounds of meat out of the bottom if a kill was made. But, you've never feasted on better fare, judging from the few times I've tasted it.

Yes, it was another great day to live in Montana.