Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Vassallo Interviews: Russell Blair Describes Beauty of Montana

Russell and Bab Blair's Montana home
The Blairs’ Montana home

Russell, former head coach of Ole Miss men’s tennis team, and his wife Babs Blair spend a good amount of time in their special place in Montana.

It is easy to understand why they enjoy their Montana mountain retreat so much. And many of their visitors and guests often have fur coats, but not the ones store bought. The following interview would inspire anyone to include a Montana vacation on their bucket list. What makes Montana unique?

Russell Blair: Montana is unique in that it is the 4th largest state with a population of only 1 million people. That tells you there is a lot of wide open Big Sky country to enjoy that is not populated. Montana has an incredibly diverse topography with mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, and the largest wilderness area in the U.S. (Bob Marshall Wilderness) which is approximately 2 million acres. Describe the wildlife there.

Russell Blair: It doesn’t get any better than the wildlife Montana has to offer. We are fortunate that our property backs up to the Bob Marshall Wilderness so at any given time we can view: whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, grizzly bear, turkeys, wolves, coyotes, cougars, lynx, and bobcat. The mountains behind the house (Rockies) have mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The only animal we don’t have that is in Montana would be the pronghorn antelope which is found on the East side on the plains. What is the fishing like?

Russell Blair: The fishing in Montana is off the chart as well. Fly fishing enthusiasts from all over the country come to our area to fish because of the beautiful lakes and rivers that hold large numbers of trout. Probably 70 percent of the people getting off the planes at the local airport are carrying fly rods in the summer. Bass is also a popular species here in the Northwest that does well in the lakes and rivers.

Russell spotted a couple black bears in his yard!
Russell spotted a couple black bears in his yard! Are the winters as rough as the perception?

Russell Blair: We have very distinct seasons here in Montana and the winters aren’t nearly as bad as one would think. It can get cold, but it’s that dry cold and believe me humidity does make a big a big difference. We have a lot of snow during the winter so you can always plan on having a white Christmas. Getting around in the snow is not a problem because the roads are plowed and everyone has four wheel drive vehicles. Babs and I were living here during the winter of ’96 which all other winters are compared. It was record breaking snowfall and cold, but still manageable. Any famous landmarks?

Russell Blair: Some of the most famous landmarks in Montana are: Big Hole National Battlefield in Wisdom, MT, Bighorn Canyon at Fort Smith, MT, Ft. Union Trading Post, Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge, MT, Lewis and Clark Trail, Little Bighorn Battlefield in Crow Agency, MT. What about national parks?

Russell Blair: Glacier National Park in my opinion is one of the most spectacular parks in the country. It is known as the International Peace Park because half the park is in the U.S. and the other half is in Alberta Canada. We are located about 35 miles South of Glacier and try to take advantage of the park as often as possible. The hiking, fishing, boating, animal viewing, and the lodges are just some of what Glacier has to offer. Yellowstone Park is also in Montana and probably one of the best known in the country. Are wolves roaming the countryside?

Russell Blair: Wolves were reintroduced into the area in ’95 and are in great abundance. I often hear them howling in the mountains behind our home and see their tracks in the snow. In fact, they have come back so strong the Montana Game and Fish department opened a hunting season on them two years ago. They have no predators and their packs were getting too large to control. They wreak havoc on other game such as deer and elk and their numbers have to be maintained. Are wild horses and buffalo still a reality?

Russell Blair: Wild horses and buffalo can still be found in certain areas on the plains of Montana. The National Bison Range is located 50 miles South of our home and you are allowed to drive through to see the buffalo herds. I think the buffalo and the grizzly are the two animals that epitomize the true wilderness of Montana. What in your opinion is the most scenic place in the state?

Russell Blair: I am very prejudiced when it comes to picking the most scenic part of the state. The Northwest part of Montana has the tall mountains that are timbered to the top, most beautiful lakes and rivers you can imagine, Glacier National Park, and great little artsy type cowboy towns that have an incredible amount of charm. I knew the first time we found this area it was something I had been looking for all my life. I love the outdoors and this area is very special. Once you get on the East side of the Rockies you get that Big Sky country where you can horizon to horizon. It is pretty in its own way, but I much prefer the Northwest side of the state. If you’re going to visit, what are the preferred months?

Russell Blair: Deciding which timeframe to visit Montana is really up to the individual. Personally I like all the seasons, but if you are tired of the heat and humidity of Mississippi then summer is awesome. The days are long because it is light at 5:00 am and dark at 10:30. Temps can be very mild and once the sun goes down in the evening you are putting on a sweatshirt. If you like snow and skiing then of course the winter would be for you. The spring is exciting because all the bears are coming out of hibernation and fun to watch. The fall is spectacular and also one of my favorite times of the year.

Russell said, " I took the picture of the grizzly this evening. He actually came right up to the deck and stayed for an hour eating grass. He was basically less than 10 yards from me and I was glad to be in the house."
Russell said, ” I took the picture of the grizzly this evening. He actually came right up to the deck and stayed for an hour eating grass. He was basically less than 10 yards from me and I was glad to be in the house.” Describe the highway and road system. Are there dangerous mountain highways similar to Colorado?

Russell Blair: The highway system in Montana is overall very good. Yes, some of the highways in the winter can be dangerous because of the high elevation and ice on the roads, but they are well maintained. One of the biggest problems while driving at night on the highways are deer and elk. I once counted over 1,000 deer in a 70 mile stretch of road to my home. You really have to pay attention. The population is how many and what about the ancestry?

Russell Blair: The first wave of migration and settlement into Montana began when gold was discovered in Bannack (1862) and Alder Gulch (1863) south of Butte. Montana became a fusion of frontiers that included settlers who had originally gone to California and Oregon in the 1850’s. Settlers from the east, southern-born Civil War veterans, and foreign-born immigrants, including those from Europe and China and all arrived in the same time period. Any Indian reservations within the state and if so, the tribes represented?

Russell Blair: Montana still has many Indian reservations within the state. Some of the tribes represented are: Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Sioux, Flathead, and Crow. We have a Flathead reservation very close to our area. Are hunters drawn to the state and if so, for which species?

Russell Blair: Hunters come from all over the U.S. and out of the country to take advantage of the incredible hunting opportunities here. Deer (whitetail and mule deer), Elk, black bear, antelope, bighorn sheep, moose, cougars, and mountain goats are many of the species they come for. Deer and elk are probably the most popular.

Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at or call him at (985) 852-7745.

//The following lines allow infolinks to place their ads - Inserted 6/17/2022 // End infolinks tracing pixel