End of Summer Can’t Come Soon Enough

Hoping for rain and praying for the safety of firefighters doing dangerous work on our behalf

By Rob Breeding

Summer will end. Of that I’m certain.

Hopefully the end will come before another treasure like the Sperry Chalet is lost.

The last two months have been dismal. Too much heat. Too much sun. It’s been too much summer, actually.

What I need is a little frost (sorry gardeners), some color in the trees and a serious cold front to sweep across the state, putting a lid on the fires and washing away the smoke that has rendered our big skies a dull, grayish brown you’d more likely expect on the horizon of a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Think Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” without the roving bands of cannibals.

It’s of course obligatory that we hope for rain and pray for the safety of the firefighters doing their dangerous work on our behalf, but the fact that it’s obligatory doesn’t mean it’s not heartfelt. It just makes other concerns seem petty. That we’re dealing with this now is a shock, really, considering the “real” winter we endured and precipitation totals for the calendar year that remain above average.

But that was all before the spigot went dry in May and any pretense of this being a “wet” year evaporated in the blast furnace that followed. All the early moisture did was leave more fuel to cure in the heat.

Once we turn the corner and cooler weather tames the flames, my concern will shift is the toll the hot weather has taken on game bird populations. Montana is too big of place for blanket proclamations about habitat conditions, but I’ll do it anyway. Generally, things were good for birds through May. The winter was severe, but the lingering snow, in combination with a wet spring, meant conditions were promising in much of the state.

For instance, in the northeast corner of Montana there were reports of plenty of Hungarian partridge pairs, then broods, before summer.

But the vice-like grip of drought has hit that country hard, and what that means for birds we’ll only know once hunters take to the field. Young birds feed on the succulent new growth of forbs and weeds. They need the nutrition of that fresh salad, as well as protein provided by insect population booms fueled by the new vegetation. But with no summer green up, chicks that were on the ground in the spring may have succumbed to starvation, or in their weakened state, four-legged predators, by the time hunting season opens.

As I’m a committed chukar hunter I’m especially interested in how this will play out for birds along the Montana-Wyoming border south of Bridger. Winter was especially tough in that country, with heavy snow on the ground from mid-December through February.

I wasn’t optimistic when I scouted some of my favorite spots in the spring. Still, I found paired-up birds, and heard many more calling in the evenings. The cover there looks good, especially on the Wyoming side where summer hasn’t been as harsh. I suspect winter survivors found good conditions for raising broods.

I haven’t been out recently as it’s been too hot to work the dog. Also, anywhere you’ll find chukar in Montana or Wyoming you’ll also find snakes. I’m going to wait for a hard frost to send the rattlers to their dens before I let Doll loose on the chukar grounds.

We’ll head out around the time I get my first nose full of wood smoke, and by that I mean the smoke that comes from chimneys, not forest fires. It smells so much sweeter.

It smells like hunting season.