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Bailey Remmich
Hinsdale High School FFA chapter member Bailey Remmich welds gate latches destined for Block Management lands.

I don’t know about you, but ranch gates and I simply do not get along. Some are easy and doable. But so many of them could just as easily have been installed by Hercules, Samson or Godzilla, instead of actually being put in by ranchers or ranch kids who seem to have far, far more strength than the average man.

Add in a dose of bitter cold hunting weather and the barbed wire gates between fence posts are stiff and stretched about as solid as a steel bar. The meaning of a good, tight gate becomes close to a totally immovable object.

Oh, I get them open — eventually — as I’ve got considerable bulk to lean into them. And I always close them back up again with the help of the same considerable bulk.

Yet the nature of these ranch gates are the reason I was pretty excited to hear about the good and kind work done this fall by the Hinsdale High School FFA Chapter with Block Management Lands on the Hi-Line.

Ron Selden, information officer for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Glasgow, wrote about how the Hinsdale students were building gate latches for lands in the Block Management Program in the area.

“Landowners and hunters involved in the popular Block Management access program are having an easier time getting around on the properties, thanks to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter at Hinsdale High School,” Selden wrote.

“The chapter members have been hard at work this fall making about 100 metal gate latches that are being distributed to landowners enrolled in the program in Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 6. The hinged latches help reduce the labor and hassle involved in opening and closing wire gates. They also ensure that gates are securely closed, which helps keeps stock animals in their pastures,” he added.

FWP provided the materials for the project through its Hunting Enhancement Program. The FFA chapter provided the manpower and skill to put them together.

“These handy gate openers make it easier for landowners and hunters to access these properties,” said Michael “Mikey” Nye, Region 6 hunting enhancement coordinator. “The Hinsdale FFA members really did a fantastic job on them. We’re definitely looking to do more of these types of projects with other schools.”

On behalf of the gate-challenged in the hunting fraternity, many thanks to the Hinsdale High FFA. Hopefully, other schools in Montana will take on more projects just like this one.

Ice guidelines

With the recent snap of subzero weather, ice is firming up across Montana and anglers are making their first tentative steps out onto frozen lakes and reservoirs.

With that in mind, here are the generally accepted guidelines for ice thickness that’s safe for new, clear ice:

• Four inches — Ice fishing or other activities on foot.

• Five to six inches — Snowmobile or ATV.

• Eight to 12 inches — Car or small pickup.

• 12 to 15 inches — Medium truck.

It’s also worth noting that no ice thickness is totally safe. And you should look at all ice sheets as potentially having weak spots due to winds, underwater currents, underwater springs or, in Montana, areas where gas bubbles to the surface.

Keep in mind, too, that these numbers were developed for stable lakes — not reservoirs. Reservoir levels can go up and down as inflows increase or water is released through dams. Changing water levels can also affect the safety of ice and create weak spots.