Hunting Lifestyle

Hunter Safety and Lessons from the Hunt: A Moose, My Son, and Bucks

A moose in the woods, stay safe when filling moose tag with hunter education.

Filling tags is every hunter's goal during each hunting season. What if you have an opportunity to fill multiple tags in a calendar year?

You are truly living a hunter's dream! 

Today, we share a story from Montana Hunter Education instructor Bill Smith. He had a phenomenal hunting year, filling multiple tags and learning valuable lessons along the way. We'll also talk about the importance of a hunter safety course to guide you through each hunt!

A Hunting Educator

Here is Bill's 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. One specific season for me repeatedly exemplified how unique hunting in Montana is and reinforced why I hunt.

Filling the Moose License

As I usually do, I applied for every species and every license Montana offers. 

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 usually 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 traveled to the hunting area every time I had a day off from work. I was surprised by how dense the forests were. I found moose signs every trip, but I never saw a moose. 

I was confident, though, that my opportunity would come as long as I continued to work hard.

A Family Affair

My brother, Dan, joined me in moose camp during the opening week. We continued to see moose signs, and the first night, a bull came 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 of 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 signs. For the evening hunt, we decided to 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 had hoped, 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.

Bill Smith with his son and the buck they shot, hunter safety eduction concept.

A Successful Hunter Apprenticeship

A nasty cold was impacting our family and keeping me from hunting for weeks. I did manage to get out about ten days after the moose hunt and filled my bear license on a big black bear. I also got out for a couple of 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. He made many competent decisions on his own, which reinforced my faith that he has been listening and learning over the years and that he is committed to being a responsible, ethical sportsman.

A Surprise Buck

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 on opening day. After that, where I hunt largely depends on the clues I notice about big game activity and how they use 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. That first day off, I decided to hunt three different areas in an effort to cover as much ground as possible in the hope that I could figure some things out. Two hunting areas were close together, saving 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. I was exhausted, and my legs hurt from the earlier hikes. I wanted to take a nap in my truck, but I 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.

The Buck Appears

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 ten minutes. Finally, he turned his head away from me briefly, and I saw what I couldn't see before; he had three points coming off the main beam, making him a 5-point. This buck had an inside spread of 20 inches and good mass at the bases.

Bill Smith with his buck, hunter safety concept.

The decision to shoot was easy. Walking up to the buck afterward, 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 and returned 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 I gave my wife the go-ahead to post a photo of the buck on hers. 

We received one response from a friend who respectfully opposed hunting. I truly respect her courage to do so and her views. Still, I wish people could see hunters' respect 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. It reinforced my passion for big game hunting and my respect 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.

Fill Your Tags Safely With Hunter Safety Education

Bill had a milestone year, filling more than one tag through several seasons. He was even able to share these memories with his brother and son in the field. 

One of the reasons he was able to have a successful season and bring his son along for a hunt was because he understood how to stay safe in the field. As a hunter education instructor, he had the knowledge to get in and out of hunting locations safely and help his son make smart decisions. He also has a firm grasp of why we hunt and respect for wild game – something we teach through our Hunter-Ed online courses. 

We want to help you fill your tags safely this season (and every season)! We also want to help your family join in on making the kinds of memories Bill shared with us today. However, you don't have to be an instructor like Bill to stay safe! Just take a hunter safety course. 

Before your next hunt, make sure you're safety certified. Our courses are state-approved and convenient to take online. Find the course for your state, and good luck this season! 


Originally published October 12, 2016. Content updated May 1, 2023.