Wile E. Coyote

The roads through Yellowstone National Park have been slowly opening over the last few weeks.  Today, only the road to Jackson, Wyoming remains closed.

My wife and I took a drive through the Park a week ago.  It’s really nice this time of year, without all the traffic that makes you feel rushed during peak season.  On our way out of the Park, we found this guy sitting beside the road.

Coyote 1

He sat there watching us for a while until he got bored.


Coyote 2

Then he slowly sauntered away.


wiley 2

It’s always cool to see a wild animal in his natural habitat, chasing his native prey.  I was really lucky to get this shot.



Absaroka Moonrise

Just a couple pics of the moon rising over the Absaroka Mountains last night, taken from my home’s front porch in Paradise Valley.

Moon 2

Just Starting


Moon 1


Moon 3

This one looks like the “All Seeing Eye” on Mordor from the Lord of the Rings.  Or maybe a giant Christmas tree with a star on top.

We’re in The Movies!

Hank PattersonSweetwater Fly Shop is featured in Hank Patterson’s Reel Montana Adventure, the guide/comedian’s new feature-length film. The movie will be screened at the Emerson Theater in Bozeman on Saturday, March 21st. Doors open at 7 and the film starts at 8. Hank himself will be there! You should be there as well!



My wife and I moved into our new Paradise Valley home last week.  There was a lot of work to be done–cleaning, unpacking–but we also spent some time walking the property.  The house came with a little more than 20 acres, mostly comprised of mixed grasses, shrubs, cactus, and sage brush.  So far, I’ve seen rabbits and Hungarian Partridge living in the fields, and I’ve found tracks from deer, coyotes and a fox.  But I found something else on Saturday’s walk.

At first, I thought a small piece of plant debris had been thrown from my boot, causing the movement I glimpsed with my peripheral vision.  But then I saw it again.  And again.  As I bent close to the ground, I could see grasshoppers…in February!  There were a lot of these miniature hoppers in my fields, jumping on top of the snow and hopping into the straw-colored grass.

There are some species of grasshoppers, known as “juvenile diapausers,”  that overwinter as nymphs, while most species spend the coldest months as eggs.  So maybe that explains why these hoppers were frolicking amidst the snowy patches on a 30 degree day.  But with spring only a few weeks away, I’m choosing to believe this is a sign.  It has me wishing for what’s to come.  Winter will soon be over, and the sweet seasons will arrive.  The Yellowstone River’s wild trout will be eating stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies before we know it.  And then it’s hopper season.  Ah, hopper season.










Yellowstone Valley Zoo: The Final Installment–Elk, Moose, Eagles, and more


A moose enjoys his lunch in the serene Lamar Valley.  There were three moose traveling together this day.  But this one came closest to the car.



This is the final Yellowstone Valley Zoo blog.  This series’ three previous blogs showcased photos I’d taken after my move from Pennsylvania to Montana in October 2014.  These blogs have highlighted bighorn sheep, bison, and pronghorn–all found along the roads within a short drive from Sweetwater Fly Shop:  Areas near, or in, Paradise Valley, Livingston, Gardiner, and the northern gate to Yellowstone National Park.

Today I’m focusing on some of the other critters I’ve found along these same routes.  Again, a few of these photos were taken with cameras, others with just my cell phone.  It’s the diversity of the region’s wildlife that’s amazing…not necessarily my pics.  You can click on the photos to make them larger.




Bald eagles feasting on bison entrails left by Native American hunters just outside Yellowstone Park.  Make sure you click on the photo to check out all the birds in the tree behind the eagle in the foreground.




A nice mule deer buck walks the field beside the southern entrance to East River Road off of Route 89.  This was post-hunting season, so he’ll be bigger next year.





A coyote feasts on an elk carcass in the Lamar Valley.  He was playing tug-of-war with the scraps like a German Shepard with a rope.




A couple Merriam’s turkeys near walk the road near Pine Creek.  I’d only seen eastern turkeys in Pennsylvania, so these were my first Merriam’s.  I was happy to shoot a picture with my cell phone, but they didn’t seem to care that I was even there.





A small bull elk near Mammoth Hot Springs.  There are almost always elk near Mammoth.  They occasionally try to gore uneducated tourists who attempt to pet them.



A cow elk grazes on the edge of Gardiner, just outside the Park.  These are still wild, but very civilized, elk.  I recently watched a cow wait for traffic to slow so she could cross the bridge in Gardner.  She was better at crossing the street than most kindergarteners.



For some reason, I felt like I was being watched on Christmas Eve morning along East River Road in Paradise Valley.



Then the elk herd moved in for a closer look.



Then they made me slam on my brakes as they tripped into each other in front of my SUV.



Finally, these were my first two Montana Hungarian partridges: a double taken by my old Parker VHE side-by-side shotgun (one bird in my hand, one in Reed’s mouth).  The partridges, found in Paradise Valley, were pointed and retrieved by my friend Jason Corbin’s amazing dogs, Reed and Ruger.  And though the birds are the only creatures in my photos not still alive (as far as I know), I have no regrets…they were delicious!  Just like the moose in the first picture, I enjoy a nice lunch too.


That’s all for now from the Yellowstone Valley Zoo.  Next week I guess I’ll talk about fishing.  Thanks for reading!

Yellowstone Valley Zoo: Pronghorn


Some people call them speed goats because they’re fast and related to goats.  But their proper name is American pronghorn.  A lot of people call them antelope, though they are not closely related to African antelope.  In fact, their closest living relative is the giraffe.

American pronghorn are the 2nd fastest land animal on earth, eclipsed only by the cheetah.  Cheetah can reach speeds near 7o mph in short bursts.  Pronghorn tend to max-out around 60 mph.  But while cheetah can only top-line run for short distances, the pronghorn is able to maintain nearly half of its top speed for great distances–miles and miles.



Unlike mule deer, white tail deer, and elk, pronghorn are poor jumpers.  And all of the seemingly endless miles of barbwire fences across the American west have taken their toll on these animals by limiting food supplies and blocking migration routes.

There aren’t a lot of pronghorn right around Sweetwater Fly Shop.  But I’ve seen them just outside of Livingston in the fields beside I90 and south of shop along Paradise Valley’s Route 89, below the Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone River’s west bank.  Perhaps the best place to find pronghorn, when you’re fishing the Livingston and Gardiner region, is along the Old Yellowstone Trail Road.  There are almost always pronghorn here, near and within Yellowstone National Park’s boundary.  I shot all of the pronghorn photos in this blog along the Old Yellowstone Trail.



A herd of pronghorn just outside Yellowstone Nation Park



Pronghorn are more difficult to photograph than many other animals in Paradise Valley.  They tend to run away from your car when you pull to the side of the road.



Some pronghorn migrate great distances.  The caribou is the only other North American  mammal to migrate farther.



Pronghorn horns are unique: a cross between antlers and horns.  Antlers are made of bone and shed every year.  Horns are comprised of keratin, and they are never shed.   But the sheath of pronghorn horns, made of Keratin, is shed every year.



Yellowstone Valley Zoo: Bison



Today is part two of my “Yellowstone Valley Zoo” blog series.  This one is going to discuss bison. I had decided to talk about antelope today (maybe I’ll get to them tomorrow), but when my wife read yesterday’s bighorn sheep blog, she said, “You have to do bison next.  They’re my favorite.”  So if you don’t like bison, or if you were really amped-up for antelope (humor me here), blame Mrs. Weamer.

Bison are one of the most beloved symbols of the west.   Many people, when they imagine bison today, think of Kevin Kostner’s movie, Dances with Wolves, where epic cinematography captured bison herds roiling the prairie dust as they thundered into the horizon.   It’s hard not to romanticize these magnificent beasts when theme music is playing in the back of your mind.  And it’s true, their story of survival is miraculous.

Before Columbus first sailed to America, there were an estimated 30 to 60 million wild bison roaming North America.  There were even bison living on the edges of the great eastern forests.  But that all changed as newly immigrated Europeans began to slaughter the herds; first for food, then for skins, and ultimately as a way to destroy the Native American tribes’ capacity to survive outside reservations.

With new firearm technologies developed during the civil war, rifles became more lethal at greater distances, and this led to the wholesale slaughter of these animals.  The bison’s destruction was so thorough that by the early 1900’s, fewer than 50 wild bison remained in Yellowstone National Park.  This remnant herd became vital to the species’ survival.  The National Park System’s web site states that Yellowstone National Park is, “The only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.”  The current herd of well over 4,000 Yellowstone bison is also important because it remains purebred, without any hybridization with domestic cattle.  So when you travel Montana’s Route 89 today, past Sweetwater Fly Shop to the Yankee Jim Canyon, and then into Gardiner and the Park, the bison you see are direct descendants of the 50 remnant bison.  And that’s pretty cool.



This photo, taken on January 14 this year, shows a bison herd just outside Yellowstone National Park on the edges of Gardiner, Montana.


In the winter, heavy snows in the Park push the bison to search for greener pastures, which they find around the small town of Gardiner.  The bison would likely travel farther from the Park, but cattle guards placed on Route 89 at the head of Yankee Jim Canyon, as well as a fence on the river’s west side, force the bison to remain outside of Paradise Valley.  The primary reason for this is to protect cattle ranchers who are afraid their domestic cattle herds will contract brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can spread between elk, bison, and domestic cattle.  Ironically, the bison and elk were first exposed to brucellosis by domestic cattle.  Brucellosis causes failed pregnancies in some exposed animals, and it is passed to others when they come in contact with the aborted fetuses or birthing tissues.

To stop the Yellowstone Park herd from growing too large for its allotted ground, some animals are now being culled.  And this is controversial.  Some of these animals are reserved for Native American tribes to harvest.  This too is debated, both by other Native Americans who want to see the herd grow and expand and some of the residents around Gardiner who watch this all take place int heir back yards.


You can read more about it here:


And here:



Bison are gigantic animals.  Bulls can weigh over 2000 pounds and cows are over 1000.  And it’s pretty cool (maybe a little intimidating) to have them right beside your car.  I couldn’t imagine hitting one, though I came close enough a couple weeks ago when one rumbled in front of mine on Route 89, just outside Gardiner.



Where’s my State Farm representative now?


A couple weeks ago, my wife and I drove through the Park into the Lamar Valley on a sight seeing trip. There was a lot of snow in the Lamar’s beautiful valley.  So much so, that bison were using the plowed roadway to travel through the Park.  We were trapped in this bison convoy for probably 15 minutes before an opening large enough for my car appeared.  As I slowly worked my way through the animals, one of the smaller ones jostled near a big bull.  They bull obviously took exception as he pummeled  the small bison into a snow drift.  The little guy sat there, looking a little stunned, and a little embarrassed, as we drove past him.  But he quickly got to his feet and followed the rest of his relatives down the road.  All I could think was “I’m sorry about that, but better you than me.”



Late November 2014 bison in the snowy Lamar Valley.  There’s much more snow there today!








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