Twelve Months, Twelve Photos 2016

As in past I have chosen to reflect upon the year behind me by choosing a photo from each month that I feel was a highlight.  It allows me to think on how the year played out and helps to set the stage for the year ahead.  Thanks to Dave C. for the idea of the “Twelve Months, Twelve Photos” concept – – it has become something I truly appreciate.

January: The month started off pretty great although my back – – which I had been suffering through much pain over for the past years – – proved to be nice in that I got out with one of my best backcountry partners for a nice day of pow at a not overly used b.c. zone.


February: The outdoor gear development company that had employed me since 2012 decided to switch it’s focus away from gear design and as such let the majority of it’s R&D staff go in 2016.  This was a pretty huge hit to the way of life that my family and I had begun to build for ourselves but at the same time was a chance for me to design and develop some of my own gear as I said goodbye to that place.  In good news, the person who was part of that company that I most respected has started his own company so go give them a follow.


March: Young Mae began to take her first steps in March.  It’s almost hard to think back on this now that she is running and jumping all over the place.


April: The aforementioned closing of doors of my previous employer has thusfar proved to be an amazing improvement to my livelihood.  I have taken up employment with a local solar electric design and install firm and am exceedingly happy with my new line of work.  Excellent autonomy within the company and a management that truly cares for and understands their workforce.  Not to mention a product that provides legitimate and undeniable value to society.


May: Exceptional, quality camping with good friends from all over the country.  We picked a zone that was relatively close to friends living in Bozeman, Seattle, Helena, and Salt Lake City and we all gathered for the Memorial Day weekend to relax, eat, drink, shoot, ride bikes, and be lazy next to the creek.  Wonderful!


June: June brought more awesome camping with very good friends, albeit this time much closer to home than in May.  A favorite destination just West of Bozeman found us relaxing around the campfire, shooting BB guns, and brapping Mason’s moto around the plentiful BLM land.


July: My wife and daughter made their way out of town so I ventured up to one of our favorite campsites for a night solo with the Land Cruiser.


August: More super, awesome, quality, family camping was had in August as we explored a new zone in Paradise Valley.  I expect to have more adventures here in the future.


September: This month found my hunting partner and I deep in the Absaroka’s for the HD 316 bc hunt.  Although we didn’t harvest anything I did have what has proven to be the most successful stalk of my short hunting career.


October: What an amazing little person Mae is becoming.  Torie photographed her in some beautiful clothes during the autumnal colors of October.  Such a precious child!


November: Our family visited Seattle and Bellingham during November and I snapped this photo of some of our best friend’s “kids”.  Charlotte will soon be Mae’s good buddy.  Ol’ Jax we learned was ailing in health and I knew that when I left him the scratch behind his ear and gruff, but loving words I spoke to him would probably be the last.  He has since passed on and I miss him as a former roommate and punching bag.  RIP, buddy.


December: Neither of us having meat in the freezer, my hunting partner and I headed up to the cold, windy, and barren lands of the Castle Mountains in hope of catching glimpse of a herd of elk on BMA land.  It was a gorgeous, sunny, relatively mild, and quality day, but alas, no elk were spotted.  As such we have pretty much put the period on the end of the sentence of our hunting season and will re-group and begin planning for next September.


2016 was a splendid year and although I didn’t get out on enough backpacking trips I was happy to continually introduce my daughter to the wonders of the great outdoors.  I look forward to a 2017 plentiful with camping excursions and outdoor enjoyment for all.  May you and yours experience the same.  What do you have planned for 2017?  Let me know in the comments.

 

On Spooking Elk and Stalking Mule Deer

Montana rifle hunters willing to put in the extra work it takes to get deep into the backcountry have early gates to begin hunting over a month prior to the general season opener so my buddy Justin and I set about planning a trip into one of these four districts.  Three of the four are located up in the Bob Marshall and the other is located down in our neck of the woods in the Absaroka Beartooth.  We picked an access point that we felt would offer up a good chance at finding big game, was close enough to a trailhead that hiking out a heap of meat wouldn’t wreck us (too much), but was still far enough from a trailhead or road to make the riff raff want to avoid it.

After some highway driving and a long, bumpy FS road we arrived at the trailhead to find fourteen other vehicles – more than ten of which were big ol’ diesel ranch rigs complete with full sized horse trailers.  We knew we’d be sharing the mountains with horse packers and hunting guides but we hoped they were going to stick to the main trail and that we were going to have the less visited drainage adjacent to ourselves.  It was close to seven miles from the car just to get to the boundary of the hunting district and the point where we’d see if the horse packers continued downhill or if they turned off along the ridgeline to the next bowl.  Much to our delight the scratch in the grass that was the only sign of our trail was a great sign that the next drainage would be potentially void of other people.

With a smile on our face knowing we’d probably be leaving the more popular zone we carefully picked our way along the 10k+ ridgeline to the next drainage being careful as we approached not to skyline any critters that might be lingering as one drainage rolled over the small pass into the next.  The wind was howling and a light snow had started to fall as we low crawled up to the crest and began glassing the beautiful country below.  The cold was quickly getting the best of us as we were both still wearing just lightweight baselayers from the long uphill hike.  We carefully albeit hurriedly made our way over the saddle to a small row of stumpy conifers to get out of the wind.  Justin set about brewing up some coffee and I quickly donned a jacket and began glassing.  We had only been within the boundaries of the huntable district for less than an hour at this point and mere minutes later we both looked to the North and saw a young bull elk and three cows standing in full view not more than 500 yards away just checking us out.  They watched us for but a few seconds and took off at a trot down valley.  Busted.  What a great way to start a four day hunting trip!

We kicked ourselves for not being supremely patient in glassing better prior to entering the drainage but the cold had caught up to us and we had never once thought we’d get into elk immediately upon arriving.  Lessons – hard lessons – learned.  I watched the elk effortlessly cover a couple miles of terrain and a thousand or more feet of elevation drop and gain in around 15 minutes.  What immense, powerful animals.  We made note of where they traveled and where they disappeared – back pocket information for our remaining time in this zone.

We made a plan to begin hunting down the valley slowly and cautiously.  We covered quite a bit of miles walking a few hundred meters apart from each other down the essentially trail-less valley (a fire had torched nearly all the timber and the lack of use of the trail made it only a scratch).  We had hoped that if one of us scared something up it would allow the other to get in a shot.  As the magic light of the evening cast alpenglow on the high peaks above us and dark became imminent we picked a spot, set up the tent, hung the bear rope, and got our grub on.

Hunting is a sport of mornings and evenings so an early rise is essential.  We woke at 0600, coffee’ed, ate, broke camp, and headed up the opposite wall of the drainage than we’d come down the previous day.  We had formulated a plan the night before and began the arduous climb up the burned hillside chock full of fallen timber.  Careful, micro route finding is essential in these situations to save yourself from a twisted ankle and fatigue but also to avoid making a racket that would undoubtedly spook up your prey.

After six hours of careful maneuvering interspersed with a few hour-long sessions of just sitting and glassing we came to an open meadow nestled between two heights of land and backed by the steep, North-facing canyon wall.  A small seep of water came up from the ground in the middle of the meadow, and distinct game trails and many animal tracks clearly denoted the presence of game in the area.  This area was exactly where the elk that we spooked the previous day had headed down into after I’d lost site of them as I watched from the high country.

The plan we had made while glassing lower down the hillside was to find a spot we thought might be a “honey hole” e.g. the potential hangout spot for game and to simply post up in comfortable positions with stellar firing angles for the remainder of the day and then set camp just before dark.  We each took up a position atop one of these heights of land, Justin covering one of the game trails and I covering one of the meadows, an side access game trail, and a steep downhill approach that showed lots of sign of elk and deer travel.  The next six hours were very zen-like as we could not see each other, nor talk to each other.  It was just each of us with our binocular, rifle, and our thoughts.  We both glassed the area adjacent to us as well as the cliffs and hillsides many, many miles distant.  Although no animals came into range we were both treated to our own delightful views of mountain goats on far away cliffs.  The two that I spotted I was able to watch on and off for over two hours as they made their way along a high cliff a few miles distant from me.

We set our camp, had our dinner and were asleep before 2100.  The previous night had dipped to 25 degrees F but tonight seemed to be off to a better start.  Justin was traveling alpine-style with only the backpanel of his pack for a sleeping mat and was looking forward to a slightly better night’s sleep.  I had the extra weight of a torso-sized inflatable mat on my back the entire weekend but it made up for any cold sleeping – – my least favorite thing to experience while backpacking.

Another six a.m. wake-up, coffee, and breakfast found us climbing to the top of a steep bench where we were treated to astounding views of essentially the entire basin we’d now been hunting for 36+ hours.  We posted up in two positions, me to glass the entire upper country of the basin and Justin to guard the area we’d just approached from in the event an animal came ambling up the hillside to the tasty browse on top of the bench.  I formulated a plan and ran it past Justin for how to spend the afternoon.  He concurred and suggested a few alternatives which jived well for both of us.  We would continue hunting the side of the canyon we were on until mid afternoon and then if nothing had transpired, head back over to the main canyon where the horse camps were to make a camp and then hunt for the morning prior to needing to head back out to civilization.

We very carefully picked our way down off the bench bumping from one patch of trees to another, glassing the next ahead as we went and always glassing the distance as far in any direction as we could see.  We spotted a very solid game trail in the distance which clearly marked the route from the high country down to the honey hole we’d camped at for any animals coming from the high country downvalley along this side of the canyon.  We jumped onto it and slowly made our way up canyon.  Midday was fast approaching and we’d not yet seen any critters so we moved with a bit more speed and stopped to glass less.  We did however maintain an attitude of stalking and did not give ourselves away any more than necessary.

After a glorious stop for lunch along a fresh, clear stream of water below a steep cliff I spotted two white rumps in a meadow ahead.  I put my hand up to motion to Justin behind me and carefully glassed around a conifer.  Two mule deer does were a hundred or so yards ahead of us.  These does were off limits in this district at this time so we didn’t bother with them and made our position known to them before continuing our creep uphill.  Moments later I put my binocular up to my eyes to glass the distant hillsides as I’d done hundreds of times previous and in my slow sweep my eyes landed on what I instantly thought were six elk and I immediately told Justin so.  I then lifted the binocular again and retracted my statement, clarifying that they were not elk, but muleys.  The animals were over a half mile away so identifying their sex took some very patient viewing through both the binocular and rifle scope.  After ten or so minutes I felt confident that at least three of them were male and we talked over the feasibility of a stalk from so far away on these animals known for being extremely attentive and jumpy.

I made one potential suggestion but it involved coming in from above the animals including a couple hundred yards of completely exposed terrain.  I had little to no confidence that this approach would work but I was very interested in making an attempt on these animals.  Taking a mule deer buck was an acceptable option for me as I planned for this trip.  Justin joined me on this trip with the intent to focus on hunting elk and wasn’t as interested in taking a mule deer. When I told him I would rather spend the remainder of the day making an attempt on one of these bucks than I would just moving over to the next canyon to find camp he wholeheartedly offered up a suggested approach to the stalk that I completely got behind.

We worked out a series of hand signals so that he could remain behind in a good position to glass the animals as I set off to cover the 1/2 mile and try to get within the range I feel comfortable shooting at, which is 200 yards.  My method was to use spotty vegetation and the topography of the land to keep myself as hidden from these incredibly attuned animals as I could.  This entire stalk was going to rely on the fact that it was approximately 1400 hours and it was highly likely that these animals were about to bed down in a thicket for an afternoon rest prior to their evening feeding session later.  If they did in fact bed, and I could spend the time while they were doing so getting into position I could then wait them out until they appeared from the scrub and into my sights.

I covered the 1/2 mile stealthily, dropped my pack in a thicket and began bear crawling with just the essentials.  I had put on an extra layer and drank some water in case I was in for a long wait, but otherwise only had my rifle, gloves, and earplugs along with me.  Continuing to try and keep either vegetation or small undulations of earth between me and the animals I was able to successfully get to the last remaining thicket of trees before an open space and the thicket that the animals had bedded down in before I set off to stalk.  I was now operating blind because I had not been able to keep an eye on them as I walked.  I carefully brought my binocular up to my eyes and almost as if on cue a buck stepped out, completely broadside to me and stared down canyon directly toward me.  I was well hidden and I was pretty certain he couldn’t see me but there was a wicked wind blowing across me and up and slightly to my right that was undoubtedly wafting my odors across his nose.  I had only just arrived at this spot and I had not yet had a chance to position my rife into a comfortable and stable shooting position so I was not yet ready to take a shot.  Once again, almost as if on cue as I lay there on my stomach cursing his timing he stepped back behind the thicket.

I took a deep breath and dug deep into my well of patience and told myself that good things can come to those who wait so I immediately set about positioning a small log in front of me and testing the steadiness of my rifle, adjusting my scope and going over the shooting regimen in my head as I waited.  I had arrived in position at 1500, only about one hour after first spotting the critters.  I could see three animals, all with between three and four points on one half their antlers milling about behind the thicket but not even remotely with enough clarity that I would consider taking a shot.  I simply had to wait and be patient.  I was blessed with this not taking too long however as only 15 or 30 minutes passed when the first animal’s head popped out from the trees.  And then just beyond him, another.  Neither had exposed their front shoulders – the aspect of the creatures needed to be visible to make a clean kill.  Then a third head appeared and I carefully examined each critter and decided on which I would take aim upon should they finally decide to walk out.  The first two came out into the complete open and began feeding and it was everything I could do to remain calm, breathing slowly, attempting to control my heart rate.  These minutes stretched on for what seemed like much longer until the buck I had my rifle leveled on stepped out.  He made one step, two steps, three steps, as I carefully tracked him in the crosshairs of my scope.  I took a slow, controlled, deep breath, exhaled, and triggered.

Commotion of course immediately ensued.  I was successful in following the buck as he jumped forward five or ten feet but then all five of the animals in the immediate vicinity became impossible for me to tell apart as they grouped up.  A rifle is incredibly loud and I am sure they were a bit stunned by whatever it was, but did not scatter, but rather simply all began walking away.  I had no way of knowing whether I had successfully hit the animal nor, if so, which of them it might be as they were now all walking away slowly.  I became overcome with doubt as I watched six animals all walking away.  One appeared to possibly be limping but I could not be certain whether this might have been from a bad shot by me or something altogether different.  I did not dare take a shot at this animal in case I had in fact dropped the one I was aiming at and that may be lying dead in the tall grass out of sight.  I took a few deep breaths and felt the adrenaline surging in my veins reminding me of the power contained in the act of taking another animal’s life.

My brain was on overdrive as I collected my rifle and quickly moved downhill to get my pack.  Justin had made double time up the hill upon hearing my rifle report and he appeared within minutes as I was beginning my journey to see if I hit or missed my mark.  Doubt weighed heavily on my mind as I knew I had seen six animals walk away and up toward the ridgeline but I was still incredibly amped regarding the entire stalk, wait, and ultimately the shot.  Justin later told me my eyes were very wide and I was talking a mile a minute.

We arrived at the location a few minutes later and as I had suspected, did not find an animal crumpled up in the dirt.  The shot I had taken was at the end of my comfortable shooting range of 200 yards, was along a steeply sloping uphill trajectory, and had a very strong cross breeze blowing left to right.  I told Justin of the deer that had the slight limp and that if in the event I had caused this injury I needed to be certain I could attempt to justify the situation so we set about tracking to look for blood.  We were successful in following the group of animals fresh tracks in the dirt for well over a quarter mile and we found not a single drop of blood so we both felt comfortable in putting a period at the end of the sentence that was a very powerful stalk on a beautiful group of mule deer bucks.

It was approaching 1700 at this point so as I began to come down off the high I was on from such an exhilarating although ultimately fruitless hunt we got back on track to make our way out of the drainage we had now completely hunted down and back up over 48 hours.  We made our way along the knife ridge to the popular, horse packer, ridden drainage to find the main trail we’d hiked in on with the tracks of around six horses to now be completely obliterated by what must have been many more strings of animals.  As we looked down valley I asked Justin how serious he was about making a camp and spending three hours the next morning hunting the upper end of a zone that had seen multiple groups of pack animals blasting through it.  We thoroughly talked it over and decided that if we had the whole next day it would be worth a try but since we didn’t we might as well make just start in on the seven mile hike out and three hour drive back home so that we could spend Sunday with loved ones.  We made half of the hike in the pitch black, deep in grizzly country so we turned on Justin’s iPhone and shared Alice’s Restaurant and a few other Arlo Guthrie tunes with any adjacent wildlife to let them know we meant no harm.  Boots to dirt and tires to the road we arrived home at 1230 am, sans meat, but chock full of spectacular scenery, company, and experience.

“Alone in the Wilderness” with Dick Proenneke

Richard Louis “Dick” Proenneke (May 4, 1916 – April 20, 2003) was an amateur naturalist who lived alone for nearly thirty years in the mountains of Alaska in a log cabin he had constructed by hand near the shore of Twin Lakes. Proenneke hunted, fished, raised and gathered his own food, and also had supplies flown in occasionally. He documented his activities in journals and on film, and also recorded valuable meteorological and natural data.

The following is the 57 minute self-made documentary shot by Mr. Proenneke entitled “Alone in the Wilderness”. This is one of my favorite pieces of wilderness living film and each time I watch it I am amazed and astounded at the vast set of skills, the motivation, and dedication that it took for someone to live off the land.

Dick’s cabin on Twin Lakes is now on the National Register of Historic Sites and is located within Lake Clark
National Park & Preserve in Alaska.

A Successful and Rewarding Season of Hunting

My grandfather hunted deer before I was old enough to fully grasp the concept but it was not an activity that my family practiced into my childhood.   My father would take my brother and I to the sandpit to target practice with the family .22 so shooting at pop cans was about the extent of my hunting career until this fall.

 

My wife and I are now homeowners and in our backyard we’ve created a nice series of vegetable gardens. We participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and make a concerted effort to put healthy, local, and responsible eating choices at the forefront of our life.  My wife is far more a green thumb than I so I felt that being able to bring locally harvested meat to our table would be a worthy addition to our food needs.

 

 

I began my research early in the year, focusing first on educating myself about hunting rifles, ammunition, and hunting-specific gear.  I opted for a .308 caliber Tikka T3 rifle mounted with a Leupold Vx-2 3-9×40 scope on Warne rings.  For the rifle I fashioned a DIY sling and set out on multiple camping trips and a visit to the local range to sight it in at 100 yards.  I purchased a few hundred rounds of high quality surplus ammo and put a few dozen rounds down range in order to become proficient in it’s use and familiarize myself to it so using it would not be strange to me when it came time to get serious.

 

 

With new gear choices complete I set out to modify my North Face MG55 backpacking pack (a staple of my GNP trail crew days when 50lb. loads were not uncommon). It has a comfortable hip belt and shoulder straps, two aluminum stays, and with only a few hours of work I was able to cut off the pack bag, add a load shelf and a series of 1″ straps and buckles to accommodate both camping gear (inside drybags) as well as upwards a large amount of animal weight (I tested the pack up to 90 lbs).  On the front I employed a Hill People Gear Kit Bag which provides quick access to my binocular, energy bars, and other sundries.

 

The general rifle season isn’t until late Fall in Montana but I began spending weekends in possible hunting locations a month early trying to get a feel for where the deer live and possible spots I could get goods shots. I obviously love camping so these scouting trips were fun backpacking trips in gorgeous country that could hardly be considered work. On the side I was watching online videos teaching myself about field dressing animals, and reading up on advice from backcountry and frontcountry hunters alike.

 

 

The season opener finally arrived and I headed to a section of woods very close to my home in hopes that I would be able to harvest a truly local animal. I hiked the five miles to my selected spot after dark and upon arrival laid out my bivy, set my alarm for a pre-dawn wake-up and went to sleep. I was awake and in position 45 minutes prior to sunrise (the season officially opens 30 minutes prior to sunup). I spent the entire morning and early afternoon posted in a single location which I thought would be a good pass-through area for critters moving from one drainage to another. Unfortunately I saw only one creature that day and it was a fellow orange and camo-clad hunter. I moved down into one of the drainages late in the afternoon, found a very prominent game trail and a watering hole and posted myself up to sit for a few hours until sunset. Once again, I saw nothing. The story repeated itself the next morning as I sat at the same spot from the previous evening and then hunted my way down this trail-less valley slowly and quietly back toward my truck.

 

2014-hunt-blackmore

 

The following weekend I decided to head about 35 miles from town to another zone I had thoroughly researched through aerial photography. This location would allow me to drive my truck to within a mile of the creek and its surrounding hillside that I wished to hunt. This location allowed me to use my truck camping setup which is very comfortable but still required a couple miles walking to the zone, up the creek, and then back to the vehicle. Once again I was skunked for the whole weekend not even seeing a single animal.

 

I went out four weekends in a row only taking an evening or morning off here and there. Camping out most nights and trying to hunt as many of the dawn and dusk sessions as I could. Over the course of the entire season I consumed around 25 gallons of gasoline in traveling to various zones and I was beginning to feel like that kind of consumption didn’t add up to my goal for this activity to represent sustainable eating.

 

 

I had decided to return my focus to the zone close to my home for the remaining weekend of the season I didn’t already have scheduled with holiday commitments and begin heading there for evening and dawn sessions, returning home overnight. By this time of year sunset and sunrise are so far apart that camping requires you sit in the dark from five in the afternoon until nearly eight in the morning so I decided to my time was better spent at home.

 

I decided to hit the zone for a dusk session on a Friday after work. I had cut out a couple hours early and by 3:30pm I was in the woods, on my knee, rifle up to my eye with a spike whitetail buck in my sights at well under a 100 yards out. He was small-ish and although this was the first legal buck I’d seen in all my hunting so far I hesitated very shortly.   Short enough to give pause think about what it meant to kill him, but long enough for him to get behind enough trees and begin walking away from me out of sight and out of range. I spent the next 24 hours pondering this decision and whether I had made the right choice.

 

 

It began to snow on my hike out of the woods that evening and I wondered whether my season would end that week without a critter in our freezer. I came back at dawn the following morning and posted myself in a position where I expected the little guy I had seen the night before would come back up and out of the lowlands. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after sun-up he appeared 300 yards across the logging clear cut I was stationed at. He was outside the distance I was comfortable successfully targeting and shooting so I just watched him follow a game trail up and over a ridge and then I set out to stalk him just for the thrill of it – not really expecting to find him.

 

“Because I choose to eat meat, I assume responsibility for acquiring it, rather than entrusting it to proxy executioners, processors, packagers, and distributors.” – Steven Rinella

 

I had followed his trail for a ways before losing it and then followed some new game trails I’d not seen before – not one to miss out on an opportunity for a new place to explore. I slowly hunted my way down these trails, back along the logging roads and then the final trail to my truck. The weekend was over and the following weekend was Thanksgiving. With friends from out of town arriving Wednesday night my days off from work were over and I braced myself that my first hunting season was about to close and I without a successful harvest.

 

 

I simply couldn’t give up just yet and I phoned my boss on Monday night requesting if he’d mind if I came in a few hours late on Tuesday. He agreed and I hit what I’d decided was the sweet spot to intersect one last time with the Whitetail Spike I’d now seen twice. I took what I’d learned in seeing him the first two times and posted myself up at sunrise in a clearing that I hoped was his exact route of travel for that morning.

 

At 8:15am I was glassing a clearcut when out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement. I quietly backed off the rifle safety, reminded myself to slow my breathing, brought the weapon and scope to my eye and began to follow him in my sights keeping target on the zone just behind his left shoulder. I was sitting atop a small knoll and he walked into the draw below me, out of sight for a few minutes. I worried he would walk up the hill toward me – scare, and run off. Instead, thankfully, he took to the opposite bank. The wind was in my favor and I sat still – scope affixed at the correct level – but he was facing away from me and not broadside – no good for a successful shot. He next turned to his left but at the same time put his shoulders behind a tree while he nibbled at brush. My heart was pounding but I was practicing a controlled breath and the scope was not shaking. I knew the time was imminent, that I would kill this animal and that he would provide my family a bounty for the coming year.

 

2014-hunt-sam-with-rifle

 

He took one step forward, exposing his sides from behind the tree and I did not hesitate. I waited only an instant for my brain to register that where my scope was aimed on his body was in fact the kill zone and I gently squeezed the trigger. His reaction was instantaneous as the bullet connected with him. He spun 180 degrees and bolted very quickly. I chambered another round just in case as I carefully watched where he went until I could no longer see his tail as it disappeared over a slight rise into some trees. Gathering my pack I put the rifle back on safe and proceeded to the point where the bullet had connected with him to begin tracking.  I fretfully hoped I had fired a killing shot that would end his life quickly and with little pain.

 

 

His tracks were easy to spot where he had been standing a few minutes previous. I followed them only a short distance and then began to spot blood. Following these spots and his tracks for only ten or 15 minutes I came upon him in a shrubby area about 200 meters from where I’d shot him.

 

I stood looking at him for a minute, in awe of the awesome power behind taking a life. But at the same time, I stood without guilt. I had thought over this subject for many months, what it means to kill and that as a meat eater it is not only a perfectly acceptable thing to do but also one of the few ways to be able to do so in good conscience.

 

To hunt and butcher an animal is to recognize that meat is not some abstract form of protein that springs into existence tightly wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. – Lily Raff McCaulou

 

I laid my hand on his chest, thanked him for what he had done for me, his hide still warm under my un-gloved palm. A slight rain has started to fall and it shook me from my awe and I put on my game face. I gathered my equipment, reviewed in my head the steps I would now need to perform the gutless method on my harvest and set to work.

 

It took me significantly longer than I expected for the overall process. I had fired my rifle at approximately 8:15am, had him on the ground and tracked by 8:30, but did not have my game bags full and my bounty loaded onto my backpack until 11:45am. I began the two mile hike out of the woods. My best estimation is that the meat, bones, head, plus my gear, pack, and rifle weighed between 60 and 70 lbs.  The going was slow on the icy and snowy ground and the two miles took me around a hour to cover.

 

 

The hunt complete there was still much work to be done. I packed the meat bags into my fridge at home and got to my job to finish out the work day. Afterwards, I hurried home and prepared our kitchen for more work. That night, as well as the next, and then one more afternoon a few days later my wife and I, as well as a friend helped prepare and clean both steak meat and the rest of the meat we’d grind into burger. The second night after the hunt I grilled four small bacon-wrapped backstrap steaks and my wife prepared roast broccoli and baked sweet potato. It was one of the most powerful meals of my life and I savored every bite of it.

 

 

A friend of a friend has a heavy-duty 220 amp meat grinder and I reserved a slot yesterday afternoon to grind up the majority of the meat into burger. The process took just shy of two hours from arrival to having everything wrapped and taped in butcher paper. Tonight I will invite the friends who helped with the cleaning over for dinner and we will savor plates of venison tacos.

 

The consumable costs:
$8 conservation license
$16 deer license
$87 gasoline

The rewards:
8 lbs. steak meat
25.25 lbs. burger meat

Cost/benefit analysis:
$111.00 / 33.25 lbs. meat = $3.33/lb

2014-hunt-meat-on-table

The Onset of Winter in the Mountains

Hiking into the mountains can be compared to going forward in time.  As you gain elevation into the hills it is like moving forward in the season.  Lower pressures and colder temperatures bring an earlier onset of each season and in mid-October it is not uncommon to fall asleep in autumn and wake up in winter.  Such was the case this past weekend at a high alpine camp I made on the East side of the Gallatin Range.

 

 

I am prepping for the upcoming deer hunting season and in keeping with due diligence I have been scouting possible zones where I hope to be successful in my hunt. I opted to gain a high alpine ridge via a trail, then make my way off the trail along the ridgeline to provide me a view to glass into multiple adjacent basins. I camped on a narrow, flat section of this ridgeline below a beautiful rocky peak. Although windy, if I had not researched the weather forecast the onslaught of snow that was to come could have been a near total surprise.

 

 

 

I arrived in the late afternoon, draped myself in my woobie and poncho atop my foam sit pad with snacks, water, and binocular to glass the basins below. Unfortunately into the lens appeared two other groups of hunters and no wildlife. The wind picked up so excessively that I quit glassing as the light faded and set about cutting enough firewood to warm me until darkness and a reasonable bedtime.

 

 

Mashed potatoes and a few slugs of bourbon in my belly, the dying embers of the fire, and the first flakes of falling snow pushed me into the warmth of my sleeping quilt inside my shelter. I had brought a snow-load worthy shelter but little did I know what kind of pummeling my ridgetop camp was to bring that night. The snow came in hard and the wind maintained itself until well into the night. I awoke many times to re-adjust a blown out tent stake and the trekking poles which hold up the shelters roof. The snow was still falling when I awoke before dawn with the intent to continue glassing for wildlife. The shelter walls sagged and caved but the roof remained strong.

 

 

When dawn broke the visibility outside was such that glassing from the ridge was not going to provide results so I struck camp and decided to hike out via an offtrail route following the ridge I was on to see what sign of animal I could find while making my way back to the truck.

 

 

The country I traveled through exquisite. The fresh blanket of nearly a foot of snow hung heavy on the flora and the quietness that comes with such a blanket was silence that is music to my ears. I walked, tripped, slipped, and gracefully glissaded my way downhill keeping a keen eye out for critters.

 

 

Although my goal was to spot deer on this journey I did not come across any of the species and I may cross it off my list of places to consider coming for a hunt. I did have the glorious treat of coming across a large cow moose standing in a boggy section of the lowlands as I reached the valley bottom off the ridge. She turned and looked at me for a few seconds and nonchalantly walked away behind some trees and then up and off trail into the woods. I am always in awe when I have the chance to view these magnificent creatures.

 

The hunt continues.

 

 

After Work Scouting Mission

Embarked on a quick scouting mission to a potential hunting zone last evening after work.  Took the Land Cruiser to the trailhead, rode the fatbike to the end of the trail, and then hiked an off-trail ridge to within 15 minutes of sunset.  Glassed for game until sunset (spotted three elk) and then hightailed it back downhill arriving at my truck in the last minutes of twilight.

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