A Tag

Ive watched the sun come up over hay fields, coulees, mountains and river bottoms. I chased deer for two weeks, passing up bucks nobody in their right mind would have passed up, even on the first day of the season. I didnt want it to end.

The smell of sage, frost on the rifle, coyotes walking by at 20 feet as I sit behind the ancient  cottonwood that created a natural blind and the massive 10 year old double patched whitetail 200 yards and 400 vertical feet across the coulee all remain in my memory far beyond the meat that is now in our freezer.

The season started out with promise and hope as all do. I didn’t connect on an elk, and given the travel we have to engage in for the Holiday weekend, it’s unlikely that I’ll get out and chase them again this year. I notched my tag five times on whitetail. Big, fat laden does and the anti-climactic end of the year: A spike buck. He busted out of cover, following a large bodied buck whose antlers I couldn’t see. When I saw the spike I committed the cardinal sin: I didn’t wait one last second. A 225 yard shot later, we walked up to what I thought was the big doe, and got that sinking feeling as I saw the little fork, and 5 inch long spike.

That little buck, it turns out, was a gift. Because I shot that little guy, I was able to be with a good friend who took the largest buck he’d ever shot; a nice wide 4 point whitetail that made the mistake of covering ground during shooting light. I was with another friend who shot his first deer, ever. He’s recently moved to Montana and grew up in an urban environment but couldn’t stand the thought of his boys growing up without wild country. After he shot his deer, we went fishing and stuck a number of large browns and rainbows. A real Cast and Blast.

We hunted both public and private ground this year. Both offered up multiple opportunities to harvest wildlife for the larder. The public land sticks out most in my memory as it’s a recent addition to the State of Montana’s Wildlife Management Areas. These WMA’s are part of Montana’s wildlife legacy. The wisdom of their purchases can be seen for decades after their acquisition.

Places like the Sun River Wildlife Management Area, Robb Ledford, WMA, Spotted Dog and the Marshall Block continue to show us that proper conservation of the land means bountiful opportunity.

As the FWP Commission considers adding one more Wildlife Management Area to the fold, controversy surrounds it. Just like every other one before it. The Legislature will surely use this to try and eliminate FWP’s ability to purchase land, just like last session when they came unhinged at Spotted Dog and Fish Creek.

I am thankful that I live in a state that values habitat conservation over heavy handed management through reduced opportunity. Montana puts its wildlife and the opportunity of every one of us to harvest that wildlife above the desire to turn a buck over antlered critters.

Governor-elect Steve Bullock has a big job ahead of him when it comes to nominating new FWP Commissioners, agency heads for Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as well as policy staff. We’re headed into a new legislative session that will once again prove to test the mettle and ferocity of those who defend the legacy that Theodore Roosevelt gave us. Dark clouds in Washington continue to threaten the wild country we love, as well as the funding streams we need in order to keep ducks in the sky, and bulls in the Mountains.

But for now, I am thankful, and content. We’ll grill the first backstraps on Thursday. I’ve still got my wolf tag and a December in the mountains to fill that. I’ve got trout rising to midges on warm winter days.

I’ve got Montana, and for that, I am thankful.  

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Hellgate Hunters and Anglers
Our Mission is to conserve Montana's wildlife, wild places, and fair-chase hunting and fishing heritage.