Fall is Here in Montana

By BRUCE AUCHLY for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

Fall is a welcome assault on the senses. We see it, hear it and smell it. Most of us welcome it, a few shun it.

The days are shorter, though still warm with lots of sunshine; the nights cooler and longer, and sleeping is more pleasant with the windows open.

For those who hunt, or wait for cooler water to fish again, this is the season. There are no others like it. From now until early December it is a time to dial into our hunter-gatherer genetic code.

For those who garden, it’s the season to stock the larder. Put up beans, can tomatoes, pickle cucumbers, bake then freeze zucchini bread.

fall color aspen stand

Aspen tree leaves will soon turn yellow and fall to the ground.

But in Montana, hunting and fall are synonymous.

Already there are stories in town of bull elk taken by archers, or retrievers bouncing through a coulee to bring back a pair of downed Hungarian partridge. Soon antelope season will be upon us followed all too quickly by the deer and elk general rifle season.

Hunter-gatherer or not, right now, today, if it’s sunny go outside and marvel at the striking blue of our big sky. Take in the warmth of the sun. Then store that knowledge for a January night.

Try to find a patch of yellow cottonwood leaves still on the tree, now in the minority soon to be part of a broader autumn palette.

For anglers, catching a brook trout in fall spawning colors rivals a visit to any art museum.

Autumn, officially crashing the calendar Sept. 22, has sounds and smells as well as sights.

It’s the sound of antelope bucks galloping after each other, or some archer’s decoy, trying to run off the interloper who wants a dalliance with the buck’s harem.

It’s a bow hunter listening in the predawn gloom to a bull elk bugle and bugle to a crescendo before crashing off through the forest.

dog with pheasants

Dogs, pheasants and bird hunters are a common sight every fall in Montana.

Later in the fall, it’s the martial thumping sound of a pheasant beating its wings in a desperate attempt to gain altitude and elude a predator.

Or it can be as simple as the rustling of leaves blowing across the driveway into the neighbor’s yard. That’s nice, let him worry about them. Know that feeling?

The smells of autumn can be as simple as gunpowder hanging in the air from a shotgun blast; wood smoke curling from the chimney to a leaden sky as snowflakes dot the cabin roof.

Or as complex as the odors that hit a bird dog in the nose. Think you have a good sense of smell? Tell it to Fido.

Scientists tell us dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, we have close to six million. And the portion of a dog’s brain that analyzes smells is proportionally 40 times bigger than ours.

Whatever your internal timepiece says, it’s time to get outside and enjoy this season before it too quickly turns to winter.