Manages Parisian Family Office. Began Wall Street, 82. Founded investment firm, Native American Advisors. Member, White Earth Chippewa Tribe. Was NYSE/FINRA arb. Conservative. Raised on Native reservations. Pureblood, clot-shot free. In a world elevated on a tech-driven dopamine binge, he trades from Ghost Ranch on the Yellowstone River in MT, his TN farm, Pamelot or CASA TULE', his winter camp in Los Cabos, Mexico. Always been, and will always be, an optimist.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Mexican Fence.........

The following editorial is reprinted here today without permission simply because it is too dam good not to share. I have been a subscriber of Investors Business Daily since on or about 1984 when my good friend Dave Utter took me to a meeting that his pal, Jim Damron formerly of Bateman Eichler Hill Richards invited him to. Mr. Damron I believe was the first circulation manager of the IBD newspaper. Bill O'Neill has done a heck of a job with the newspaper over these past 20 some years and I applaud him on the work he's done to improve the paper every year. Very few stockbrokers or financial consulting types use the newspaper simply because they have never made any serious money in the market and don't know how to do the work to make money in the market. It is my daily bible. As a former San Diegan and knowing intimately of the ills brought to California by the millions of criminal aliens who have passed through the San Diego-Mexican border this editorial sums things up succinctly. By the way, every time I shop at Costco I think of the old company run by Sol Price out of San Diego, Price Club, (PCLB was the symbol.)

If you ever get the chance, ask Bill O'Neill just how many millions he made on PCLB back in the late 1970's and early 80's. It was so much you probably wouldn't believe him.


Posted 12/19/2007

Immigration: Congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, gut the Secure Fence Act in the omnibus spending bill against the wishes of the American people. In a bill with 9,000 earmarks, border security takes a back seat.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 required the construction of 700 miles of border fence, modeled on the success of the border barriers in the San Diego sector of the U.S. border. The operative word is "secure."

That legislation specifically called for "two layers of reinforced fencing" and listed five specific sections of the border where it should be built. The omnibus spending bill removes the requirement for two tiers and the specific list of locations.

The two-tier fence in San Diego runs 14 miles along the border with Tijuana, Mexico. The first layer is a high steel fence, with an inner high anti-climb fence with a no-man's land in between.

It has been amazingly effective. According to a 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, illegal alien apprehensions in the San Diego sector dropped from 202,000 in 1992 to 9,000 in 2004.

As local congressman and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter notes, "The success of the San Diego Border Fence demonstrates the overall effectiveness of the double-layered approach and the importance of extending this infrastructure across the southern land border."

It is that very success, we suspect, that frightens the open-border crowd and their representatives in Congress. How else to explain that, as the citizen watchdog group Grassfire ( notes, just five miles of fence that meets specifications has been built in the first year after the Secure Fence Act was passed.

The spending bill was written by Democrats and passed 253-154 with mostly their votes. Democrats say they weren't deliberately dropping the two-tiered fence or the locations specified. They say they were merely adopting language that passed the Senate several times this year.

Indeed, in the Senate version is a curious amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, that was added on a voice vote. Her amendment reads:

"Nothing in this paragraph shall require the secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads lighting, cameras and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location."

Hutchinson's office says the amendment merely gives DHS flexibility. What it provides, however, is an excuse to do nothing at all and a license for open-border politicians to pressure DHS.

DHS is on record as preferring in many instances "pedestrian fences" or "virtual fences" that are essentially a look-but-can't-touch version of border security.

"By eliminating the double-fence requirement, the Democratic Congress is going to make it easier for drug and human smugglers to cross our southern land border," said Hunter.

"This goes against the interests of any family that has been touched by illegal drugs or any American who has seen their job taken by an illegal alien."

Congress has also made it easier for terrorists to sneak their operatives into the U.S.

This is in a nation that won two world wars and put men on the moon. The border fence would have been farther along if we'd just given the Minutemen a federal grant in the form of a gift certificate to Home Depot.

So the next time you hear candidates for any office say they support border security, give them a post-hole digger and point them toward Mexico.

I'm 54 today................

What a great run it has been and the best is yet to come.

If you are sitting around today with spare time on your hands give me a call.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John Mack....Bear Stearns

The top dog at Morgan says he is accountable for the losses. Maybe they should increase their postage and handling fees to break even.

Bear's top dogs forgoing bonus's this year? Wow. Will the customers of their hedge funds that evaporated a billion or two get yachts instead?

Another Chinese Christmas disruption

The Chinese Investment Corporation, China’s embryonic sovereign wealth fund, has just issued requests for proposals to fund management companies for four equity-oriented asset classes.

Fund execs in Hong Kong say the RFPs require them to register interest by the end of this week and to submit proposals by January 15 – continuing a suspected tendency by Chinese institutions to disrupt Christmas holidays for Western-owned service providers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goldman's Guns..............

Now that the good Governor of New Jersey, a former high-flying Goldman Sachs executive has banned the death penalty I hope the other Goldman guns who run a fair amount of corporate American will still allow markets to kill the greed and detoxify the junk that is peddled from Wall Street. Never forget Goldman Sachs guns still run the Treasury Deparment and Merrill Lynch and have the capacity to send influence far and wide.

Investing public beware when the brokers come calling with a "new, good deal and you have to act now" sales pitch for your money. First, ask the broker if they own it themselves and listen to the reply.

If it is so good for you why not for them?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Big Money in the Indian Coffers..........

Casino jackpot went to investors
Mohegan group was paid $369m Middleborough deal is sought
By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff | December 16, 2007

A coterie of casino executives who helped the Mohegan of Connecticut build one of the most successful tribal casinos in the world has been paid $369 million in resort and casino proceeds during the last six years - slightly more than has been received by the entire 1,700-member tribe.

It is the kind of bonanza that was supposed to be prohibited by the federal Indian Gaming Act when it was passed 20 years ago, say some US senators and federal regulators.

But the Mohegan Sun investors - led by Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman - found legal ways around provisions intended to make sure most casino benefits went primarily to tribes. And those loopholes remain open after a massive lobbying blitz by the $25 billion Indian gaming industry.

Since 2001, the industry and its lobbyists have repeatedly defeated efforts to tighten rules and increase transparency. In the industry's latest victory, it crushed an Indian Gaming Act amendment championed in 2006 by Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona. McCain's bill would have prevented huge payouts like those received by Kerzner and Wolman. McCain has said the defeat of his bill was a triumph for special interests.

"Their lobbyists are very powerful, and they're pretty hard to fight," McCain said in an interview last month. "I was very disappointed."

That lobbying success now is reverberating in Massachusetts, where Kerzner and Wolman have most recently set their sights on a tract of land in Middleborough. Just six months after McCain's bill was defeated, Kerzner and Wolman signed a deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to build a $1 billion casino on the rural site.

That contract is subject to the same rules that allowed Kerzner and Wolman to make more money than the Mohegan tribe in recent years. Even Governor Deval Patrick has been unable to find out - despite requests for information - how much Kerzner, Wolman, and other investors in the Middleborough casino negotiations would get in the deal.

"We believe strongly that the financial deal between the tribe and their backers should be made public," said Joseph Landolfi, a spokesman for Patrick, who is interested in courting the developers and tribe if he wins legislative approval of his plan for three state-licensed casinos.

Kerzner and Wolman declined to be interviewed. A lawyer for their partnership - known as Trading Cove - in response to written questions from the Globe, said that the developers took "significant risks" in its investments in the Mohegan casino that justified the returns Trading Cove received. The Mohegan tribe owns all the equity in the casino, said Philip C. Korologos, the lawyer, so the financial benefit to the tribe will "be multiples of any amounts that Trading Cove has received."

But some Mohegan tribal members are resentful of the Trading Cove deal.

"It was supposed to be for the tribe, not outsiders," Carlisle Fowler, the Mohegan former tribal treasurer, said of Mohegan Sun in an interview last week.

And some Mashpee Wampanoag tribal members say they are suspicious about the deal their leaders have struck with the same investors in Middleborough - a deal they have not been shown. Documents filed with the tribe's pending federal application for reservation status at the site do not disclose financial terms.

"They don't let us see anything," said Michelle Fernandes, a member of the tribe. "It's a big secret."

Frank Sinatra once described Kerzner as "the world's best saloon keeper." The occasion was the opening of Sun City, the casino and resort developed by Kerzner in South Africa. One of the world's most successful casino moguls, Kerzner also developed the Atlantis resort in The Bahamas.

He landed in Montville, Conn., in 1994, enticed there by Wolman, a fellow South African then managing a Days Inn hotel in nearby Mystic. Wolman had pieced together a deal that he hoped would rival the already up-and-running Foxwoods casino, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Indians and an instant success when it opened in 1992.

At the time, investors in Indian casinos received compensation by managing the facilities until tribes gained enough experience to do so themselves. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed by Congress in 1988, the maximum pay the investors could receive was 30 percent of gambling profits annually for five years. After that, investors could get no further payments.

Mohegan Sun opened in 1996, the second casino in New England. In its first full year of operation, Mohegan Sun had $611 million in gross revenues. Its immediate success spurred a vast expansion, including development of a 1,200-room luxury hotel, overseen by Trading Cove and completed in 2002.

By then, Trading Cove had negotiated an expanded contract. The new agreement was based on gross revenue, rather than net revenue: It not only gave Trading Cove a nickel of every dollar spent at Mohegan Sun's multiple casinos, but also on all spending by patrons at the hotel, restaurants, shops, and auditorium. The contract spans 2000 to 2015.

The National Indian Gaming Commission called the amount of money the Mohegan tribe was promising to pay Trading Cove "egregious," and clearly above the legal limit, but concluded in 1998 it lacked the authority to stop the new contract.

That's because, under a loophole in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, investors could avoid caps on their returns by calling their deals anything other than a management contract, usually a consulting contract.

Currently, the annual payment to Trading Cove from the Mohegan Sun is about $75 million. Over the last six fiscal years, Trading Cove received $368.9 million, compared with $367.5 million in casino profits distributed to the tribe.

By the time the agreement expires in 2015, total receipts for Trading Cove may exceed $1 billion, according to financial projections.

Mohegan tribal chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum last week said he was not familiar with the deal made by his predecessors, one in which - according to public documents - Trading Cove put about $10 million into the original venture and provided a guarantee for about $90 million in bonds sold on Wall Street. Bozsum did, however, say that Trading Cove took a risk in backing the tribe in the 1990s.

In the late 1990s, there were 297 Indian tribes in the casino or bingo business nationally, taking in $8.4 billion a year. But the industry exploded, fueled in part by investors growing confidence they could outflank federal regulators to reap big profits. Today there are 419 tribes, doing more $26 billion a year in business.

And the vast majority of deals between investors and tribe are now made as something other than management contracts and therefore outside of regulatory review, according to the US Department of Interior's Inspector General.

As the industry grew, so have the sums that it spends on lobbyists in Washington, especially lobbyists who are former staffers for key regulatory agencies, and, in the case of Trading Cove, at least one lobbyist connected to Massachusetts politicians.

The Indian casino industry has spent $100 million for lobbying since 2001, according to the Center for Responsible Politics, a public interest group that compiles lobbying and campaign contribution data.

Trading Cove has spent almost $1 million since 2002 for lobbyists, including $495,000 since 2003 for lobbyist A. Bradford Card, managing partner of Dutko Worldwide. Card is the brother of Andrew Card, the former Bush administration White House chief of staff who in the 1980s served in the Massachusetts Legislature before running unsuccessfully for governor. When asked about his role, Card asked for written questions, but never responded to them.

Trading Cove is also represented by lobbyist Virginia Boylan, a former counsel to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and now a partner at Drinker Biddle, another powerful firm. Trading Cove fees to Boylan's firm have totaled $460,000 since 2002.

In the last three years, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe spent $520,000 for Washington lobbyists. Among them is Steven C. Schwadron, former chief of staff to US Representative William D. Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts. Most of the lobbying was connected to winning federal recognition for the tribe, but now includes "legislation and policies relevant to newly recognized tribes," Senate records say.

Trading Cove, through its lawyer, Korologos, said its goal is to "continue to oppose in lawful and legitimate ways any legislation in Congress" that interfere with tribal rights.

Len Wolman and and his brother Mark receive about $10 million a year from Mohegan Sun, according to publicly available records.

By 2015, the Wolman brothers' receipts are projected to exceed $100 million each from the Mohegan deal, out of the projected $1 billion. Kerzner's company is expected to receive about $500 million.

Meanwhile, divided among its 1,700 members, the Mohegan tribe's current share of profits works out to about $38,000 a year each. The tribe declined to say how it distributes its earnings.

When the details of the Trading Cove's 15-year contract first emerged in 2001 in the Globe, McCain vowed changes.

A bill he introduced in 2005 would have made sure that outside investors be firmly subject to the 30 percent cap.

Dennis J. Whittlesey, a longtime Indian casino lawyer based in Washington, said McCain's bill was not well-received by casino executives.

"A number of major developers were extremely concerned and made substantial moves to oppose it," he said.

The McCain bill was voted out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in March 2006 with a unanimous recommendation for passage by the full Senate.

But it died two months later, with no further discussion.

Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported that seven senators had put anonymous holds on the bill, meaning a vote of 60 senators was required to release it.

Some federal regulators continue to press for reforms. Earl E. Devaney, the US Department of Interior's inspector general, said in an interview in Washington that an overhaul of the Indian Gaming Act is still needed.

Without reforms, he said, "investors are going to have the leverage to demand and get higher and higher amounts of casino profits.

"The return they get on their investment now is huge."


For all the real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, developers and those associated with the downturn in real estate prices take heart. It will be 2009 before the bottom is put in, not 2008.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Milton High School

Living in Milton Georgia is a hoot. It beats my old home towns of Mandaree and Pine Ridge and Pickstown in some ways.....even my favorite old home town of LaJolla in other ways. It's home and a decent place to raise my sons. A few short years ago, the local powers-that-be built a new high school. A magnificent facility. Wow.

I was in the auditorium the other night listening to one of the finest unheard-of gems in Milton, the Milton High School Wind Ensemble. Wow. If the school can produce such sound at school, imagine what they could do for the community. I wish there were more community in Milton, in my church and in my neighborhood. Maybe community as I knew it in a town of 95 in the cold raging winds and blizzards of western North Dakota is long gone. Maybe not. I thought they should spend a few more dollars making the auditorium more accessible to the community. More accessible to the disabled. More accessible for the community to access. If they spend $50,000,000 building a school perhaps they should let the taxpayers see some additional benefit from the school. And if you are going to spend that much why not throw in an indoor/outdoor swimming pool for the high school swim team AND the community. Why not let the people who pay the taxes get some benefit from an auditorium in other ways? A tip of the hat to the band, band leaders and a supportive administration who made such a lovely evening of music happen. It should be required listening for all citizens of the "new" Milton!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wide Ranges, from Victor Niederhoffer, December 13, 2007

There is much talk about how to interpret the bearish Open Market Committee announcement followed by the bullish joint injection of reserves which led to the greatest absolute value of moves ever from 2:30 to close and close to open, 85 S&P points in total.

Many will try to interpret the content, the whys and wherefores of what was done, and the timing thereof, but I am tempted to cut to the chase and say that it is the like the final blast of the fireworks, or the finale of a classical symphony, or the final minutes of a sporting event such as a bike race or basketball game or 100 yard dash, where everything hangs on the last ultimate effort.

Rather than searching for more analogies, I will go out on a limb and say it appears to be the final disruptive move, the boiling water that the frog is thrown into to get him to jump, the greatest observable difference of Fechnerian Psycholoy. Merely the final attempt to loosen the weak from their positions.

There's the rub. Which side is trying to loosen which? I dont know. There have been seven days in the last 12 years where, like the last two days, there has been a high to low range of more than 45 points. The range Dec 11 was 56 points, and Dec 12 was 46. The last time it happened was Jan 3, 2001, where a 46 point range was preceded by an 81. Of the seven occasions, three were followed the next day by a rise, and four by a decline.

In closing we must tip our hat to the highest up open in futures in history (on a non holiday), up 34 points yesterday, only surpassed by the 36.5 on June 2, 2000 which followed a Memorial Day holiday, and surpassing the 32 point up open on the day after the Fed first lowered the discount rate this year (August 17, 2007).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11

Fed funds window rates....slowing economic growth.........

Listening and watching to the financial media pundits today was truly a lesson in business. The media product, telling the masses what will happen before it happens. The viewers, sucking it in like the Holy Grail to understand what will happen to their money when the Fed cuts rates.

The S & P trading down 2.5% at today's close. The fire drill at the NYSE today at the market's close may have been prescient.

Christmas came early...........

Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. rose the most in almost five years in NYSE trading after the largest U.S. phone company raised its dividend 13 percent and announced a $15.2 billion stock buyback.

The quarterly dividend climbed to 40 cents from 35.5 cents, the biggest increase in history on an annual basis, San Antonio- based AT&T said today in a statement. The company also plans to repurchase as many as 400 million shares, or about 6.6 percent of the stock outstanding, by 2009.

AT&T is rewarding investors after three straight quarters of accelerating sales growth, fueled by acquisitions and the introduction of Apple Inc.'s iPhone in June. Today, AT&T predicted ``double-digit'' earnings-per-share growth for 2008 as users download more videos and surf the Web on their handsets.

``Clearly they believe their stock's undervalued, which is great for investor confidence,'' Wachovia Securities Inc. analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said in an interview. She said the size of the dividend boost and the buyback exceeded her expectations. The Chicago-based analyst expects the stock to perform better than its peers.

AT&T shares climbed $2.09, or 5.5 percent, to $39.99 at 10:34 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Earlier they rose as high as $40.03, the biggest gain since April 2003.

The iPhone helped AT&T gain 2 million new wireless customers last quarter, cementing its lead over rival Verizon Wireless. Customers who bought the iPhone use almost twice as many data services as they did before their purchases, AT&T said in documents posted on its Web site.


Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, who took over in June, also is bolstering profit through acquisitions, including the $86 billion purchase of BellSouth Corp. last year. Annual costs will drop by about $7 billion by 2009 as AT&T reduces overlap in operations, according to the documents on the Web.

Analysts on average project that profit, excluding some costs and gains, will be $2.77 a share in 2007 and $3.18 next year, according to a Bloomberg survey. That implies a 15 percent gain.

Third-quarter profit climbed 41 percent to $3.06 billion, AT&T said Oct. 23. Mobile-phone sales advanced to a record $10.9 billion, accounting for more than a third of total revenue.

AT&T had 126,000 customers for its U-verse television service at the end of the quarter. The company expects that to increase as much as 10-fold by the end of next year, helping Stephenson depend less on wireless service for growth as the market grows saturated. Almost 80 percent of the U.S. population already has a mobile phone.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dean Parisian said .....

Dear Dagen
Dear Dagen: Reader Advises Hiring a Lawyer for Securities Disputes
By Dagen McDowell
Senior Writer
8/17/99 12:00 PM ET

Last week's column on the confusing world of securities arbitration prompted readers to send in their own words of advice for investors venturing into this dispute-resolution system.

With NASD Regulation, an arm of the National Association of Securities Dealers and the primary forum for securities arbitration, "it is usually an extremely poor idea to come before a panel without qualified, legal representation," writes Dean Parisian, who identifies himself as an arbitrator.

"Do your readership a favor, let them know to what standards panelists are held to uphold in an arbitration proceeding. Let them know that case law is not precedent. Arbitration is not like the legal system most people are familiar with. There are so many variables," he adds.

Indeed, a study by the Securities Arbitration Commentator, published in February 1997, indicated that "investors win more frequently when represented by counsel in every dollar category" that the newsletter tested. Moreover, investors with legal representation who win received a significantly higher recovery rate than investors who represented themselves.

Parisian also makes another valid point: "You have to wonder what will happen to the forums when the market takes a major hit over a prolonged time period. The exponential number of suits should keep panelists busy for years!"

The number of arbitration cases could indeed surge when the market takes a dramatic turn, especially with complaints against online brokerages. Until June 30 of this year, only 22 cases specifically related to online trading have come into the arbitration forum at the NASD Regulation. That's a small number given the fact that there are between 3 million and 5 million online accounts.

Relying on a Regulator
In my column about how to take on your broker if you have a complaint, I said that writing to one of the securities regulators, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission or the National Association of Securities Dealers, won't help.

The organizations are there to regulate the securities industry, not solve individual problems.

But reader Jeff Withem takes issue with that comment.

"You seem to imply that if a broker doesn't fix the problem, the only solution is to go directly to arbitration. In my humble opinion, arbitration is not a useful vehicle for the vast majority of problems that individual investors face," Withem writes.

"I just recently resolved a problem with Datek Online thanks to NASD Regulation. I opened an account with Datek in early December (after it placed first in survey!). I encountered repeated problems throughout December and never was able to successfully place a trade. As a result, I asked for all of my money to be returned to me. I ended up writing three formal letters to Datek over the course of five months, including a letter to its CEO, seeking return of my funds," he says.

"In late June, after receiving no response from Datek, I finally filed a complaint online with NASDR. They wrote a letter to Datek. Datek responded. It was a pathetic letter, but they did send me a check for my funds. I am totally convinced that without NASDR's involvement, I never would have seen my money," Withem adds.

"With real brokerage firms, even discount firms like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, I have found that making a complaint directly to the company usually fixes a problem (at least when it's clear who is at fault). Unfortunately, with the new breed of deep-discount online brokers, a well-timed complaint to NASDR and/or the SEC may make all the difference," concludes Withem.

From an investor's mouth to the ears of a brokerage firm's general counsel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Warren Buffett said...................

"Getting fired can produce a particularly bountiful payday for a CEO. He can "earn" more in a single day, while cleaning out his desk, than an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets. Today, in the executive suite, the all-too-prevalent rule is nothing succeeds like failure."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Montana Hunt 2007

We said a prayer in front of the garage under the stars. The 3 of us, holding hands, asking the Creator to put us in His good graces and let us do His work on this trip. The time was 5:05 a.m. on November 17th, Saturday morning. Stopping for a cup of coffee on the way to the airport, my son, Hunter, age 15, had to have a donut, 4 of them to be exact to tide him over to breakfast. Being a high school swimmer has its advantages on how to gain weight. We got to the airport early and flew through the quagmire of TSA personnel, (Thousands Standing Around), no one profiling, not a one of them looking for an Islamic militant, though I did see a very small boy, maybe age 5, being frisked with a “wand” in the secondary security area. Go figure.

It promised to be an extremely busy day at Atlanta’s international airport and probably one of the busiest holidays in history for air travel through Atlanta. The North West Airlines gate was full of hunters, dressed in their Mossy Oak and Realtree colors sold at Cabela’s. The majority of them were headed to Canada, to Edmonton and Saskatoon to hunt their quarry under the eyes of their outfitters and over the legal bait stations of feed and alfalfa. Hunting you call it? Nope, it’s just sitting in a box and shooting. Like I have always said, baiting is a significant condemnation of a shooters ability to hunt. It’s the staying warm part that must be difficult, that and staying awake. Arriving in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to light snow flurries we ate some brunch, Ron Branch my hunting partner of about 16 or 17 years, we can’t decide which, hitting the eggs hard and my son, Hunter hitting on a monster Hickory burger. We left a couple of minutes late out of Minnesota and headed for Billings, a plane full of Montanans, ex-Montanans and wanna-be Montanans, I among them the latter bunch. Clear weather, a smooth flight and good spirits amongst our fellow travelers made the time pass quickly. Getting caught up on our reading of some great mule deer articles only fueled our anticipation of another great week in Montana.

I have been fortunate to hunt this area of Montana since 1983. The first trip was with my Dad a couple of years before he retired from a career in law enforcement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My parents lived then in Crow Agency, Montana and we made the trip up north of Custer, Montana in 1983 on the dusty gravel road that back then had twice if not three times the number of mule deer around.

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of great friends in the Musselshell River community near our hunting areas, some have gone on ahead and one in particular, the late Creel Poole, had inspired in me way back in 1992 to give serious consideration to hunting a quarter-million acre ranch in east central Montana that was home to thousands of antelope and very few mule deer.

Our hunt started in the Bull Mountains on Sunday morning, November 18th. My hunting partner, Ron Branch of Tifton, Georgia and I awakened to the usual opening day jitters of being adequately prepared to go afield. Any hunter worth his rifle goes through the mental gymnastics on opening day and this for us was no exception. The alarm clock said the time was somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m. Awful early to be up readying our gear but sleep was the last thing on my mind. My son, Hunter, dozed peacefully beside me, looking over at his sleek trim musculature I thought it but a scant 15 years earlier I had held him close in my arms and dreamed of our time hunting together in Montana. Today, those dreams were now a reality, his tall frame resting peacefully beside me as his body recovered from a grueling academic schedule and his swim team participation as a 10th grader at Milton, Georgia’s Milton High School.

We arrived at the local café about 5:45 a.m., our game plan to start trying to fill our cow elk tags in the Bull Mountains of Central Montana. Drawing a bull elk tag is extremely difficult in this hunting district as a nonresident and we were unsuccessful in our bid again this year to draw bull tags. Oh well, there is always next year.

We headed into the hills as daylight beckoned and the wind picked up. Miles back into the hills I shut off the truck and all 3 of us took our GPS readings on the 4x4 as we headed up through some thick pines to get into the rim and coulees that we thought would hold elk. The weather had had been warm, very warm and in warm weather, elk need water. Every day. Their heavy winter coats and the abnormal warm temps would put them around water and our maps showed where water was. The one thing a good elk hunter is always, I repeat, always concerned with while hunting elk on foot is the wind. Wind direction is key and we hunted into a good stiff breeze out of the north-west. We fanned out and walked up on a couple of nice mule deer, one a very tall 3-point (6 pointer for you boys back East) that had a very narrow rack. Moving, very slowly, about three-quarters of a mile from the truck I hand-signaled our team at the base of a small ridge to come together, I had something to say. We were at the south end of a large pasture and I whispered we had to be careful to glass the small basins ahead as we moved into the rims above. The warm temps of the preceding week had been replaced by near freezing temps and animals were on the move, deer heavy in rutting activity and elk no doubt up and moving under the overcast skies. I told the guys to advance slowly up the ridge and keep in contact via hand signals if elk were spotted. Ron moved up to my right side and Hunter to the left. As we neared the top, Ron was hand-signaling furiously elk were ahead. Hunter and I, now together worked slowly up and over the ridge into the blowing wind. There were elk below and all we could see was cows. Our time had come.

We were on our knees and ready. Hunters BAR .243 rifle barked and the cow dropped in its tracks. I looked at the rest of the bunch that had spooked and watched a big cow turn sideways. I raised my rifle, the same Belgium-made, BAR .243 that Hunter shoots. At the shot, she folded too. Ron’s 30.06 barked and Hunter watched a big cow hit the deck higher up the opposite ridge. It was about an hour after we began our hunt and our elk tags were filled. Sometimes, luck happens. Let the work begin! Ron and Hunter began the process of gutting the animals and I headed back to attempt to snake our rented 4-wheel drive pickup back into the drainage as close to the animals as possible. We got lucky. We were able to get the vehicle right up to all 3 elk. Sometimes, luck happens.

Day 2 found the same insanity of awakening far too early. What is it about hunting season every year that gets grown men, myself having been hunting for nearly 45 years to awaken far too early in the day? It was Monday and snow was in the forecast. Little did we know that the snow flurries would turn into a little more than we had bargained for.
We shut off the truck in the exact same place as the day before, to make it simple to keep the same GPS location. We headed upwind and came over the same ridge where we harvested elk the previous day. Expecting magpies, crows, ravens, eagles, bobcats or coyotes to be feasting on the gut piles, the cycle of life what it is, we encountered a lone coyote having some fine dining on elk entrails, one of the finest scavengers on earth.

As the morning wore on the snow picked up and the temperatures dropped, wet snow coming in with the wind, straight into our eyes. Hunter and I had split from Ron early and headed into the maize of rims and box canyons that I had been in the previous year for but a single day. I liked the country. Up and down, pines, rims, game trails, snow coming down harder. We caught a few bucks on does in some spots but no shooters. We had plenty of time ahead and we wanted to be selective. This particular area of Montana was absolutely hammered this summer and fall by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and its cousin, Bluetongue. These diseases hammered antelope, mule deer and whitetails. By our estimation whitetail deer populations in the area we hunted were off by at least 75% and mule deer numbers were down as well. The cruelty of thousands of dead animals was hard to fathom. Bluetongue is normally considered a livestock disease that typically hits sheep the hardest. Wildlife typically die from bluetongue's close cousin, epizootic hemorrhagic disease which hits white-tailed deer the hardest. Both bluetongue and EHD are transmitted by the same biting midge, which hatches out in late summer and persists until the first hard frosts of fall. During that time, midges that bite infected animals will pass the disease along to new victims. Not all animals die from the disease, but many do. Where we were in Montana, it wasn’t hundreds dead. It was thousands. All week we saw eagles, balds and goldens, working antelope and deer carcasses. Carcasses everywhere. There isn’t a scavenger that will die of hunger in the Musselshell River part of Montana this year. It was hard to keep snow out of our optics and I had failed to bring my scope cover. Guess I woke up too early to remember that small item!! Our binocs were hard to keep dry and bringing them up near your face with some warm breath only fogged them faster. We saw some bedded elk ahead and worked closer when Hunter spotted a deer lie down in the middle of the cows and a spike bull that were bedded down. It appeared the color of a buck, that yellowish tawny color of a big buck with his head stuffed up under a juniper tree. I couldn’t see horns but it was a buck, having been around mule deer for 40 years I did have a clue. As we worked upwind to gain a better advantage of what kind of buck he was we scooted into a feeding cow elk. We stopped in the blowing snow and sat tight. I heard a grunt and here came a nice 4 point (it was a 10 pointer for you boys back east as we don’t count eye guards/ brow tines). It was a beautiful buck. A great frame, nice forks, dark chocolate color, maybe 40 yards away, just not heavy mass nor wide beyond his ears. I looked at Hunter, he looked at me. He whispered, “I’ll wait for a bigger one.” I am glad he did. Being 15 and having never shot a mule deer I knew he was thinking straight.

As the day wore on I was cold. Hunter was dressed better than I was. We worked into a box canyon only to be turned back by sheer walls of sand stone rims. On to the next canyon, same story. By my estimate and not my GPS, we hiked between 2 and 3 miles out of our way to escape the rims and missed all the game up on top. As the blowing sleet and snow turned into grey overcast I was glad to see Ron in the pickup. Ron had seen plenty of deer like we had just no shooters. Only the spindly typical Bull Mountain muley bucks that need better genetics, better nutrition or just more maturity. Same questions, few answers. Maybe it’s just the skewed buck-doe ratio that does it. If you know what it takes to grow great horns on muley bucks in the Bulls besides living to 6.5 years of age or older let me know. Or call Jay Newell, the muley biologist in Montana Hunting Unit, Region 5. I often think a doe should be harvested prior to any hunter taking a buck. And allow non-residents to take more does for half the cost. It might make better economic sense and do more for the herd if that is still what game management is all about. It’s often more about money. Imagine that.

Daylight on Day 4 found us about 75 miles from where we woke up. We were stocked up with some great snacks and had a great friend with us. Having his pickup with chains along in such remote country made things easier. The weather was cold. Flurries coming down and a good Montana wind going. We had access to this property for a couple of days and wanted to cover as much of the muley ground on it as possible. The ranch held thousands of antelope and probably hundreds of dead ones, EHD being the culprit. Coming up on a good coulee, Ron and I bailed out of the truck while my friend, Scott Walker and Hunter drove a mile or so to the head of the coulee to get parked and try to “block” any deer headed upwind and out the end of the massive canyon. In my haste to cover the mile of coulee I had bailed out without my warm, orange hunting jacket. I pulled my stocking hat down tight and headed into the wind on the canyon rim with Ron moving slowly through the bottom. About three-quarters of a mile along the rim, I came over a ridge and looked far ahead down the side of the steep coulee. I saw deer and plenty of them. I saw Hunter across and farther down the canyon too, sitting still in his blaze orange hunting gear, thinking he probably couldn’t see the deer. Pulling my binocs up to my eyes, I couldn’t see much, snow and fog covered the lens. Looking through my scope, the big front forks looked nice, no “crab claw” front tines on this brute, something I wanted to avoid after my 2006 buck was so sweet but had a crab-claw on the right front antler. The buck was pushing a doe directly away from me and at a good clip. He was out there a long way. With the wind blowing so hard I dropped on my back and did a 360 degree roll into a rock outcropping. An offhand shot was impossible in the gusting snow, a kneeling shot would have been “iffy” at best. I needed a strong steady rest and pushing my shoulders back into the rock outcropping with my rifle resting on my knee gave me the edge. On the first shot the buck broke straight up and out of the canyon. He’d been shot at before and his first instinct was to break away from the doe group and get up and over the ridge to safety. I kept my cool and kept shooting, trying to stay calm and put a bullet into his vitals. At the sound of the “thud” on the 4th shot I figured I had him as he buckled forward and topped over the ridge. It took awhile to get over to the rim where he came out. The crimson stain on the snow obvious, it looked like a good trail to follow and easy. Boy was I wrong.

Ron came up over the rim to join me thinking we would be shaking hands in celebration of harvesting another great animal. Ron and I enjoy a special friendship, he’s a good ole’ boy from South Georgia who just happened to teach himself how to hunt deer rather successfully. He enjoys what it takes to find and take down a great buck and being “officially” deaf, he relies on his eyesight. Ron and I have shared some sights over the last decade and a half and have taken some great animals, elk, muleys and whitetails among them. I credit Ron for teaching me one important facet in taking those South Georgia, brush-loving whitetails and it can be summed up succinctly in one word, patience.

The snow was whipping down harder and I was a having a time staying on the buck’s tracks. The doe group he was with had followed him up and over and their tracks had made it difficult to follow. I stayed on the track over the next mile and a half, down and up over 3 big canyons. The blood trail never diminished but the buck was going straight up each canyon, something you don’t see in a mortally wounded animal. Three times the buck laid down, we never saw him once in any of the 3 canyons we were in. The blood flow was constant, which helped so much and the snow flurries died down some. It was the toughest track of my life. The buck just didn’t act that wounded, the blood trail told me he was hit good. They are just tough animals, in tough country.

It was at the rim of the 4th canyon that Ron and I split up as we followed his trail over into the pine-studded coulee. As we inched up over ever so slow, he leaped up like a muley can, high and fast to make a quick exit. Horns were everywhere, he was a dandy.
I pulled my rifle up quick to find him in the scope and he was in the pine tops, Ron had a clear shot at him and dropped him like a bad habit. The elation of the moment was hard to describe. I know Ron felt the same way. It was unlike any of the hundreds of other deer I have killed. The buck had been relentless. So had we.

We found the buck motionless and dead, just like Ron’s camera at that moment. The big buttes on the skyline made the deep canyon a perfect setting for the perfect picture for the perfect buck. The memory will stay with me forever.

It was a long drag out of there, hours it seemed. Hunter was digging in to help. It was truly a great experience having my son and myself on each horn and Ron pulling the rope in front. It made for a great team and the 3 of us expending 50% less energy if there had been only 2 of us. As the day wore on, we covered many miles and saw some deer. Late in the afternoon Hunter emptied his rifle on a massive whitetail buck, a good buck that Scott really liked. You see, my friend Scott has a real love affair going with big wide, tall whitetail racks. He’s taken some dandy’s on the Musselshell River and has some land on the river. Scott calls muleys “stinky’s”, an apt name for the grey ghosts during the rut. It had been a great day, my buck tag was filled with a doe tag yet to fill. Now I could concentrate on taking some pictures, with my camera, not Ron’s.

The next day was Thanksgiving, and we had so much to be thankful for. We had spotted a beautiful muley buck in the morning light, a tall 4x4 with great character. Hunter missed the buck once and then Ron opened up on him as he came over the ridge. Ron connected on him at the longest range he’s ever taken an animal, well out there in the vicinity of the 400 yard mark. He has a great rifle, was settled in and just kept his cool. Sometimes luck happens.

As I walked up to the buck, Ron’s elation was easy to see and the drag was far easier than my buck for sure. Our fabulous Thanksgiving meal prepared by Scott’s wife, Kim was truly spectacular. For 3 souls from Georgia out banging at muleys in Montana we were treated like kings. After Hunter finished a second helping of a great dessert we headed out in the sunshine to harvest our does. We had drawn 2 muley doe tags and 1 whitetail doe tag. I wished I could have exchanged the whitetail doe tag for a muley doe tag but that’s the way disease works, an unequal opportunity killer. Hunter took his doe first, his first mule deer ever. It was vintage Hunter, cool, calm and collected with a sprinkle of humor thrown in. As usual it was another “one shot” kill for him. Ron tipped his doe over on a beautiful shot just as the deer was jumping a fence. Another great shot! My whitetail doe hit the ground as the sun was fast headed down over the horizon. Three does down and two more days to get Hunter a great buck.

Friday morning found us again up in Garfield County, Montana. About an hour after daylight, Ron and Hunter in the pickup behind us pulled up behind Scott’s rig. I motioned for Hunter to bring his rifle and to come quick. It was a vantage point too good not to see deer. The canyon rim we were about to walk over to was the same canyon I took my buck 48 hours before. Ron followed Hunter slowly, Scott and I and Hunter walked to the rocky outcrop and took in the vista. Snowy slopes greeted us. This indeed was muley country. I hadn’t been standing on that rock rim for but maybe all of 15 seconds glassing when I looked straight down to the bottom of the canyon, 183 yards straight down to be exact. The words coming out of my mouth were very matter-of-fact, “kill him Hunter, kill him” is all I said. Hunter, raised his rifle to his shoulder, took quick aim and fired. That muley buck buckled and fell forward off the ledge in a heap. It all happened so fast, he just came up from his bed and there he was, bam, Hunters first muley buck. Sometimes, luck happens. We were so happy for Hunter. Hunter with a grin even his girlfriend couldn’t wipe off. Dad beaming like he does when he watches his youngest son make a huge hit or block on the football field or when he gets to watch his number one son kill his first muley buck and Ron and Scott showing their colorful excitement for Hunters first muley buck. He was a dandy. Nice palmation, a dark chocolate 4x4 with brow tines, and nice front forks. What more could a teen ask for in his first buck mule deer. It was priceless. Hunters buck was also the heaviest buck we took because as it turned out, the buck had been gored fighting another buck and had the hide and flesh on his left front leg torn wide open. Another reason he was by himself and not on a doe group during the peak rut time. Fighting to hold a harem of females is tough work for any species!

Unfortunately that 183 yard shot straight down was 183 yards straight up on the drag. Scott had with him a 300 foot nylon strap that helped. The drag up was very hard, vertical to be exact and once the strap reached the back legs of the buck we brought him up by driving Scotts rig back 300 feet from the rim. It worked great or we might still be there. As the afternoon waned Scott still had his buck tag to fill and we hadn’t seen much in the way of deer or bucks, even the little “dinkers” as we call the little bucks were staying put. The weather was downright cold even with the afternoon sun. As we came out across some CRP ground to head back to the Mussellshell River country, Scott the old whitetail aficionado himself, spotted a nice buck, a buck we think was the same buck Hunter had missed a couple of days prior. We saw the buck head off at a dead run with a couple of does and figured he would be in Wyoming in the next hour at that clip as they headed south to break into the rough stuff south of the CRP fields. We kept moving across the section and spotted a nice group of muleys ahead, a couple of “dinker” bucks among them and they followed the coulee south at a good clip. As we crested a rise, Scott and I saw the big whitetail buck at about the same time. A great whitetail buck hesitant to leave his does. He just didn’t run, the does thinking they were safe and well-hidden in the taller sage in the coulee bottom. At the sound of the rifle shot the buck continued running, mortally wounded. Scott was indeed one happy guy! So were all of us. It was a fitting end to a great week in Big Sky country. The buck was a brute, a great mature animal with over 20 inches of width, long brow tines, 11 points, some nice stickers and a great color. A Montana beast for sure. Sometimes, luck happens.

The hunt was special, to be with my son on his first Montana big game trip, to hunt in such remote country, to renew friendships made in years gone by, to catch the rut and weather perfectly, to fill our tags with such great animals and great horns, to see so much wildlife for the countless coyotes, antelope, eagles, geese, turkeys, sage grouse and hawks it was a priceless experience. Someday, God willing, both my sons, Hunter and Jordan and friends Ron and Scott will be with me for another shot at some of Montana’s grey ghosts.

Someday, I hope, all over again, luck happens.