We called Helena several times today. The bags had still not arrived according to the Northwest system. But someone at SkyWest took the extra initiative and checked the back room. Good news. My bow case had arrived, but nothing else. Still no trace of my bag in their computers.
Now I had a dilemma. Should I wait to see if my gear showed up in the afternoon or should I buy new stuff? The risk was I would waste a lot of money but at least I could get hunting. It is now 2 days after I flew, SkyWest still has no record of my bags in the system and Northwest lost baggage operations only work M-F 8-4. So we decided to drive to Helena, pick up my bowcase, and then go shopping for my essentials like boots, underwear, toiletries, a bugle tube, unscented soap, sox, etc. Thank Goodness for Sitka gear – they had overnighted me some of their test-market Max-1 camo clothing or I’d have no outerwhere either. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. It wasn’t so much that my bags got lost; it was more the attitude at Northwest. When I was able to talk with them they basically told me to “wait and see if they show up”. That’s not what you tell someone who is burning up days on their week-long elk hunt.
After picking up my bowcase, it was off to several sporting goods shops in the area to look for new boots. What they had was either ridiculously overpriced or not in my size. I had to settle on some crappy $44 Herman Survivor hunting boots at Wal-Mart. I could have spent $400 for Meindl’s but then my bag would show up and I would be out $400 bucks. The Wal-Mart boots did not thrill me. I take great care of my feet – especially during an elk hunt where we will be walking 10 miles a day. Wearing brand new boots – and cheap ones at that is something I never do. But I simply had no choice. Two-hundred dollars later, I had my bare essentials. Everything except my grunt tube (sold out everywhere we looked) and I had forgotten to purchase underwear. Bad move .
As a last-minute desperation measure we went to K-Mart where we hoped to find either a vacuum cleaner hose or plastic flexible pipe to use for a grunt tube. We found neither. Jerry handed me the only thing that might work; it was a blue toilet plunger. It would have to do. We bought a hand-warmer to wrap it in and I had my grunt tube. Hell, at least if it didn’t work I could use it to unplug the toilet.
With two days now shot, I am praying that my bag shows up tomorrow.
Addendum, February 2012
I recently received an email from Mike Rhynard, updating me on his progress in addressing the ATV issues Jerry and I experienced on our Rhynard Ranch hunt in 2007. He informed me that his hunting operation has been going very well and that, since 2007, he and his hunters have worked closely with US Forest Service Enforcement folks to help eliminate illegal ATV activity in the southern Castle Mountains. Concurrently, the Forest Service greatly restricted the number of trails open to ATV's, which further mitigated the rampant abuse we saw in 2007. As a result of these efforts, Mike's hunters reported no ATV violations during the 2011 season, and only one in 2010. There is occasional LEGAL ATV use in the area by a neighboring rancher who has a grazing permit in the area, but it's not frequent. Mike also reports that his hunters, who are all unguided, consistently exceed the Montana success rate for guided and unguided hunting combined. We applaud Mike's, and the Forest Service's, efforts in creating an improved hunting environment for all hunters in the area, and we wish Mike and his hunters, many of whom are repeats, continued success.
We wanted you to know that Mike is a terrific guy with a great operation. The situation we experienced in 2007 was unfortuante, but it has been addressed thanks to Mike and the US Forrest Service.