by Jake Waldrop · October 12, 2016
This is a story from Montana Hunter Education instructor Bill Smith. He is a relatively new instructor, having joined in spring 2016, but brings a great deal of enthusiasm to his classroom. This is his story.
I became an apprentice Montana Hunter Education Instructor in the spring of 2016. I’ve enjoyed observing the passion of my fellow instructors, and the enthusiasm of the students beginning their journey as hunters and conservationists. I’m always very interested in why the students, young and old, are interested in becoming Montana hunters. The 2015 season repeatedly exemplified how unique hunting in Montana is, and reinforced why I hunt.
Filling the Moose License
As I normally do, I applied for every species and every license Montana has to offer. In poring over the draw odds for each species, I noticed an area near my home offered a higher success rate for moose than the area I normally put in. In fact, the area offered nearly three times the odds of my traditional application area!
I was tired of accumulating bonus points. Out of frustration, and after a little research, I applied for the new area. When the draw results came out in June, there it was—I had drawn the moose license!
I did my homework, and travelled to the hunting area every time I had days off from work. I was surprised how dense the forests were. I found moose sign every trip, but never saw a moose. I was confident, though, that my opportunity would come, so long as I continued to put forth the effort.
My brother, Dan, joined me in moose camp during the opening week. We continued to see moose sign, and the first night we had a bull come in to the sound of me raking brush with a scapula. We exchanged grunts back and forth. The bull closed in to approximately 50 yards, but remained out of sight due to the dense forest. As daylight faded on that first night, the bull walked away without ever revealing himself.
A couple days later, Dan and I picked up my 11-year-old son, Andrew. I can’t express how much I enjoy hunting with my son.
The three of us continued the hunt the next day, and again found fresh moose sign. We decided for the evening hunt we would return to the area where the bull moose had responded to me raking the brush.
As we closed in, I spotted a moose on the hillside. It was a smaller bull than I was hoping for, but it was a moose. The three of us watched the bull, who was with a cow, for a considerable time. I could tell by the look on Andrew’s face that he would love for me to take this bull. I had to take Andrew home the next morning, and he would be in school as I continued to hunt.
I may never be able to articulate the significance of having my son with me when I filled this tag. After seeing the excitement on his face, and hearing it in his voice, I pulled the trigger, and with one shot the moose license I had waited so long for was filled.
A nasty cold was having its impact on our family, and kept me from hunting for weeks. I did manage to get out about 10 days after the moose hunt, and filled my 2015 bear license on a big black bear. I got out for a couple half days of bowhunting for elk, but I just didn’t have the energy to give it an honest effort.
With the enactment of the hunter apprentice program in Montana, Andrew was able to pursue a deer of his own. Montana sets aside two days a week before the opening of the general rifle season for youth to hunt without the added pressure of the general season hunters. Andrew and I were able to take advantage of this opportunity by camping out both days; he filled his license on a buck the morning of the second day.
I was very proud of him, as he made many competent decisions on his own that reinforced my faith that he has been listening and learning through the years, and that he is committed to being a responsible, ethical sportsman.
With the hours spent on the moose hunt, Andrew’s hunt, and work, I really had no time to scout for the upcoming rifle season for deer and elk. I was at a loss as to where to begin when opening day rolled around. Traditionally, Dan and I hunt a specific area opening day. After that, where I hunt largely depends on the clues I notice about big game activity and how they are using their respective environments. I decided this year I would just have to put forth extra effort and learn as I went.
I hunted the season opener, and then took the second day off. I returned to work for two days, and then had scheduled days off. Early in the season, the days are long. I decided I would hunt 3 different areas that first day off, in an effort to cover as much ground as possible, in hope that I could figure some things out. Two of the hunting areas were close together, which saved me some time. It didn’t save me any effort, though, as I hiked in and out of both areas, gaining elevation just to give it up to get back to my truck and on to the next area.
When I arrived at the third hunting spot, I figured I was about 30 minutes earlier than I wanted to be. I was exhausted, and my legs hurt from the earlier hikes. I wanted to take a nap in my truck, but knew I’d be even less motivated for an evening hunt if I did. After nodding off several times and some soul searching, I reluctantly left the warm truck for the final hunt of the day.
As I worked my way into the hunting area, I checked the wind and my watch several times, forming a strategy on how to pick the area apart and give myself the best chance at success. It was still early, and I really wasn’t expecting to see much yet.
About a mile in, I saw a buck standing at the end of an old skid trail. The buck’s body was partially hidden by a small pine tree. He was standing broadside to me, motionless. I’m still not sure what he was doing. I glassed what I could see of his antlers, and noticed his main beams extended past his nose. I noticed he had good mass, and at least average tine length. Because of this, I thought he was a big 4 point and was intent on passing him up. I watched him for at least 10 minutes. Finally, he turned his head away from me briefly, and I saw what I couldn’t see before; he had 3 points coming off the main beam, which would make him a 5 point. This buck had an inside spread of 20 inches and good mass at the bases.
The decision to shoot was easy. Walking up to the buck afterwards, I noticed he was a 5 point with extra points off both bases, and a small extra point between his left G2 and G3. This buck had all kinds of character. I actually had cellphone coverage, and quickly texted my brother a photo. I also texted my wife, my mom, and a couple of friends. After that, I walked out to get my game cart, then went back in to get the buck. Somehow, this fourth hike of the day was easier than the other three!
Respect for the Hunt
I don’t use social media accounts, but gave my wife the go ahead to post a photo of the buck on hers. We did receive one response from a friend who respectfully expressed opposition to hunting. I truly respect her courage to do so, and her views. Still, I wish people could see the respect hunters have for the game they pursue, and the amount of time and effort that goes into a hunt. I wish they could experience the long hours after the shot getting the animal out and processed for the freezer. Somehow, I think a good number of us hunters would earn a fair amount of respect if our opposition could see what they don’t see.
This year was special in a number of ways, and reinforced the passion I have for big game hunting and the respect I have for the many big game animals that call Montana home. My wife, kids, family and friends all supported me and made sacrifices so that I could enjoy another memorable hunting season. Once again, I am truly grateful.
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