I’ve avoided going hunting since we moved to Montana. The first two autumns I was in grad school and had no time, and last year we had just moved. This year I had nothing by way of avoidance, but still waited until three days ago to buy a deer tag.
The truth is that hunting is a bit of a nuisance. I’ve never done it consistently enough to really know what I’m doing, and would rather spend the late summer fishing, hiking, boating, and mountain biking, not scouting prime deer and elk terrain. However an online discussion this past week reminded me of all the things I meant to do when we lived in Arizona that I just never managed. The hunting in Montana is, like the fishing, world class. I’d be a fool to not do it, and especially since I intend to put in for a bison tag next year, I need to brush up on the skills and beef up my resume.
The plan was to use the tactic which works well when fishing; hike in further than others are willing to. As a bonus, I decided on a route which would be a good backpack regardless, and provide the opportunity to float any deer I might get out with my packraft (which would just be cool).
On the forecast: snow.
The first surprise of the trip was seeing a woman with snowshoes strapped to her pack heading out for the trail as I pulled into the parking lot. You don’t see many backpackers around here past mid-September, let alone in that particular corner of the Bob. I caught up with Caitlin a few miles later, and we hung out around the fire that night. Darkness comes early and the nights are long this time of year, so it was an unexpected pleasure to have company, especially as I saw no deer nor deer sign the first day.
Last night it snowed.
My homemade spinnaker tarp is pretty stealth in a whited-out forest. The no-sag feature is much appreciated when compared with silnylon.
I hunted a loop away from camp as day indistinctly crept through the clouds, returned empty-handed, made coffee overlooking the river, packed up, and headed slowly back towards the road. Still no deer sign, though I spooked a small moose and stalked it for a while. I wish I had legs that long, it would make bushwacking a lot easier. That moose, some squirrels, woodpeckers, juncos, and a bunch of Griz track the first day were all the animal I saw. Not unexpected, but disappointing. I wasn’t in model deer habitat, but thought I’d at least see some tracks.
Rather than hike all the way back the way I’d come, I detoured down to the river and inflated that boat. At least I’d get to paddle a few quiet, snow cloaked miles, and perhaps sneak up on a deer getting a drink (something I’ve done quite a lot on non-hunting trips this year).
I saw no wildlife, but the river was crystalline as always, and a few small rapids were a bit more engaging at seasonal low water than they were a few months ago. Or perhaps that was just the concentration engendered by paddling in below freezing temps wearing raingear only.
In the end I drove home, fulfilled but not satisfied, and with the mixed blessing of no animal to process and get in the freezer. Naturally, I’ll be trying a different location tomorrow.