Friday, February 23, 2018

Joe Caton

Old bison herd bull turns out mighty tasty

A conversation with Joe Caton
BHCN: Hi, Joe. I was too busy to call you on Sunday, so I’m bothering you on Monday. How are you doing today?
Joe: Hey, how are you doing on this fine winter morning?
BHCN: Yes, it is a winter morning. I’d hoped we were on our way to spring, but winter is coming back.
Joe: Yeah, they say we’re going to have another week of it and then it may start looking better.
BHCN: I was looking at my phone’s weather site and wasn’t too happy to see snow today and tomorrow, and cloudy all the rest of the week. Yesterday, the wind was the problem. It really picked up and started drifting all the loose snow we recently received. In a matter of minutes, the path I had shoveled from my back deck to the west side of the yard was mostly filled in.
Joe: Well, I’m in the middle of a blizzard out here while I’m attempting to put some hay out for the buffalo. My old unit broke down. I had been using a CAT front-end loader and it broke, so I picked up a New Holland skid steer. It’s a little foreign to me. The front-end loader was easy to run, but this skid steer is quite a bit different. The CAT had a grapple on it and this one has a spear.
BHCN: A spear, you said? So you jab it, pick it up and move it.
Joe: Right, the biggest thing I don’t like about it is that you have to undo your safety belt and shut the unit off, lower the bale down, then remove the wrap off and get back in, start it up and put the bale in. It requires more getting in and out, and they’re not as handy to get in and out of as the loader was. The positives are it is four-wheel drive and has chains on it, so it will be a lot better in this snow. The other one was rather helpless in deep snow. The reverse gear went out of it, so that made it really difficult.
BHCN: That would require some thinking and planning before you get to working.
Joe: Yes, you don’t want to get yourself into a corner.
BHCN: I understand that during this last bit of good weather you were able to get out and go fishing. How did that go?
Joe: Yes, I did. I tried the new pack rod out and the fishing is really great – running streamers, and running them slow and deep. That seemed to be about the main thing. I caught fish on every type of streamer I tied on. The main thing was to run’em slow and deep.
BHCN: The last time I checked the flow, it was around 2,700 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Joe: I think it still is. It’s up a little higher than it has been. The water got murky there for a little while when we had the couple of warm days, but it’s back to crystal clear now.
BHCN: Did you see many other people out fishing on the good weather days?
Joe: Oh yeah, this is probably the busiest winter we’ve had on the river in a long time. There are more people with boats, people with cabin fever having to get out. There are a lot of drift boats out there, not many jet boats. Not a lot of shooting going on. I think the season is over, so if there’s any shooting, the wardens are probably checking it out. They may be varmint hunting, but the snow is so deep in this area, you can’t go out coyote hunting unless it has been plowed.
BHCN: Okay, you need to have a snowmobile if you’re going coyote hunting.
Joe: Right, or walk and call.
BHCN: That is an option. If the snow is that deep, wouldn’t you need to use snow shoes?
Joe: Yes, you should or stick to the ridges. Snow shoes; now that takes a whole other talent to operate them.
BHCN: They have snow shoe races, don’t they?
Joe: Yes, they do. 
BHCN: Snow shoes are nice to have in deep snow, but you’re right, it did require adjusting the way I walked when I last used a pair. I haven’t been on a pair for many a year.
Joe: It’s good exercise.
BHCN: That and cross-country skiing are two fun things to do in the winter for good exercise. What else have you been doing, other than feeding buffalo and your normal routine?  Oh, by the way, did you ever get your new herd bull?
Joe: Not yet. The road conditions have been such that we haven’t been able to get him. They’re clear up on the other side of Lolo and there’s a lot of road between here and there, especially when it’s icy. They’re all blood-tested and inspected and ready to go, but it’s just not good conditions to move them.
BHCN: You’re not needing the bull right now, are you?
Joe: No, we’re all bred up well. We’ll have some calves coming this summer. All’s good in that end. We’ll have some new blood when we get the new one in.
BHCN: How long does it normally take you to get your feeding chores done in the morning?
Joe: It depends on how deep the snow is.
BHCN: Yeah, it would.
Joe: I got three big round bale feeders, so generally it takes a couple of hours. I’m also looking them over while putting out the hay and I’m also putting out the cake, Ranger 16. They really like that. It’s kind of designed for bison and it gives them a bit more of the trace minerals they need. You can tell by their coat and hair when you feed ‘em the cake. They seem to have a bit more weight on them. They just do better. I also put smart lick tubes in there, and they really like that because it has molasses in it. I can tell when we butchered the big guy by the quality of the meat, it was amazing for a big old bull to have such high quality of meat. I’ve had some of the hamburger and it was amazing.
BHCN: So he wasn’t the typical old bull, all tough and stringy.
Joe: Generally, that’s the rule with those old breeding bulls – just tough old guys, but this one, when I saw the quality of the meat, I was surprised and the flavor the meat is really good, too.
BHCN: Didn’t you say he was going to be all hamburger? Did your change your mind once you saw the quality of the meat?
Joe: Yes, we were going to, but when I saw the quality of the meat, I had them do the main cuts of steaks. A lot of it will be going to California as soon as Dan goes by with his airplane. He can go from California to Billings in about the same time it takes me to get to Billings from St. Xavier in my pickup truck.
BHCN: That’s a nice luxury to have. Your own personal jet does really cut down on the hassle of flying. Well, Joe, it’s time to say good-bye again. I hope you have a great week. Stay warm. 
Joe: I will, and you do, too.