“Sapphire Mountains” photographed by Quintin Schanck
I moved to Montana a little over a year ago. Prior to that I had lived all of my life in Wyoming. My elk hunting exploits were all spent in the mountains of Wyoming; enhanced by the accompaniment of my family and friends. An annual bonding experience, words alone, cannot describe. All of those hunts are sacred and personal. I am truly blessed to have had such opportunities.
The 2016 elk hunting season experience was unique. This would be my first year to hunt Montana. To get a general license to hunt elk in Montana, one must be a resident for at least 6 months. I qualified as a resident to obtain a general elk license. The local sporting goods store, Bob Ward’s, is a Montana hunting license dealer. I purchased an elk license from Bob Ward’s. I am still trying to become familiarized with the mountains of Montana. A few scouting trips were made prior to the season. I purchased the onXmaps app for my cellphone. This app gives me a GPS, map, and boundaries of the hunting districts in Montana. It is valuable because it can be used on-line or maps can be stored for off-line use. I sighted-in my rifle. All of my hunting gear and supplies were still in good working order from years’ past. Everything was loaded into my truck. Filled with excitement, I was ready to go.
My son, Tyler, came along with me during my first two outings. We covered many miles in truck and on foot. We hunted three different hunting districts within reasonable driving distance from where we live. We ventured through tough terrain and slogged our way through mud, rain, sleet, and snow-the beauty of the mountains never leaving our sight. At the end of both days, we recounted the events to my beautiful wife who anxiously waited for us at home.
Tyler and I saw massive mule deer bucks along with many does and fawns. We saw white-tailed deer. We saw bighorn sheep. We saw many different bird species. We saw rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels. What we didn’t see…ELK!
“Elk Tracks” photographed by Quintin Schanck
I went solo on my last day of elk hunting. My son had work obligations. The experience was not quite as rewarding without him. I travelled to an area he and I scouted before the season began. I saw many tracks left in the snow by elk. A distant rock or log passed for an elk until viewed more accurately through the binoculars. I saw some of the best elk country one could imagine. I spent the better part of the day walking and driving into areas where I thought I would have the best chance. Alas, I was not successful.
Even though this year’s hunt did not yield any game, I received something even more valuable. The time I was able to spend with my son will be remembered forever. I loved hearing of his opinions and views of the world. I loved he was willing to take time out of his life to help me. I loved hearing of his hopes and dreams. My heart overjoyed; I am witness to the great young man he has become. Our time together was rewarding. It was quality time.
Even though I was unsuccessful, I gained valuable knowledge that I will use in future hunts. No time spent in the mountains is bad time. I experienced the sight, sounds, and smells of the mountains. A growing appreciation of their vastness and wildness was, indeed, their gift to me. By being there, one gets easily lost in time. Memories of past hunts get jumbled with memories of the last one. All are special.
Our local newspaper, Ravalli Republic, is reporting it was a down year for elk quotas in the districts I hunted. This year, my freezer will be void of wild game.
A feeling of mourning or sorrow always hits me after the season is over. I know I must wait nearly another year to get another opportunity to hunt again. My gun is oiled and cleaned. It is stored in a safe place until next hunting season. All of my hunting gear is cleaned and prepared for storage. My hopes of harvesting a Boone & Crockett bull elk are once again just dreams. The reality of life slowly starts settling back in.
The hunting season is over.