Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Montana, Part 3.

Every March, a magical thing happens. I receive an email telling me that my credit card has been charged for the renewal of my WonderWife domain name. And as the breezes of spring and the waves of pollen pour through my windows, I'm inspired again... to blog. And since I finally figured out how to post large photos from my Picasa web albums (it's so much easier than it was before!), why not continue with the saga of our Montana trip?

Day 5.

Visiting Glacier was quite a high point of the trip, but it was also nice to hang out with our friends for a few days while we waited to go back to our main game - elk hunting. (Actually, I did most of the hanging out and relaxing. Since his friend was working long shifts, Brian hunted morning and evening in local block management areas for mule deer. So far, he had been unsuccessful.)

On Day 5, I relaxed with my friend and her little ones (if I hadn't had baby fever before holding her 6-week old, I sure got it bad then). Brian went out hunting that morning locally, and came back in time to help his buddy go looking for a lost tree stand down in the river bottoms. When the two of them got back home in the afternoon, we all headed to a city about 2.5 hours away. Our friends were going to do some hunting of their own, at one of their spots, and Brian and I decided to see if we could stumble upon some good mulie-hunting land in the surrounding area while we waited.

We drove many, many miles along the state highway, turning off at random points to explore various dirt and gravel roads that we thought might lead us to a big old buck. But after plenty of searching, the land that we were finding wasn't suitable for hunting mule deer. There were lots of trees and a lot of thick brush, and when you're hunting for a mulie, you want lots of open space to be able to spot one.

Brian was a bit discouraged as we headed back to find a motel for the night. On the way back, we spotted an open field with dozens of deer and horses grazing in it. It was clearly private land, but we had never seen anything like that - so many deer in one place, just grazing openly by the road! We turned onto the gravel drive beside the field, pulling in just enough to get off the road. A large sign indicated that it was some kind of ranch, and warned, "NO TRESPASSING." Brian looked through his binoculars at the whitetail bucks, exclaiming over and over that there were 'some huge monsters out there!' This person obviously was cultivating a huge wild deer population on his ranch for some reason.

As Brian enjoyed looking at quite possibly the only deer he had seen so far on our trip, I noticed the brake lights of a car starting way down by this guy's barn. Could that guy be coming to see US? I wondered. The car drove up a second road on the other side of the field, and turned onto the highway. He drove past the field and turned onto the shoulder behind us. Yup. We'd attracted the ire of this local person. The grumpy old guy sat in the driver's seat, jotting down information on some notepad.

"You'd better get out and tell him why we stopped," I said to Brian. I didn't want the guy to think we were planning on poaching one of his bucks later that night. (But right off the highway, really? How could we have even gotten away with that?)

Brian walked up to the car and said, "Sir, is there a problem?"

"This is a private drive," the man barked back. He was writing down our license plate number.

"We're just looking at your deer," Brian explained in a friendly voice. "You've got an impressive herd out there!"

"This is a PRIVATE drive!"

"Well, we didn't want to sit in the road."


Brian was fed up. "Well, when you're done, could you please move so we can leave?" He walked back to the car. When the man had finally finished, he drove back to his house and we pulled away.

"Do you think he's going to call the cops?" I asked.

"Who cares?" Brian replied. "We weren't doing anything wrong! Plus, this is a rental, and it's not even a Montana plate, so good luck to him getting our information!"

So although we got to admire a flock of deer (seriously, a weird sight) we saw ZIP otherwise. Everywhere we drove there were thick woods - not good for mule deer hunting. Brian was discouraged and so was I. We decided to spend the night in the motel, relax, sleep in, and head home the next morning.

Day 6.

It was a good plan. Brian hadn't gotten enough sleep the entire trip, and it was good for him to recharge. We checked out mid-morning and headed over to see how our friends had done that day- turns out, a lot better than we had! My friend (the wife) had shot both a doe and a nice buck with her bow, all in one morning. They had captured the hunt on video and were on Cloud 9. Thankfully, although they'd forgotten their (photo) camera, I had mine, and we got some nice shots. They planned to stay another night, so Brian and I headed the two hours back to their home.

On the drive, we talked about what the next steps should be. It was too soon to go back to the national forest for elk-hunting, Brian thought. Our time would be better spent hunting for mulies nearby. But where? He hadn't had much luck at the few spots he'd hunted so far. His only hope was asking a local rancher if we could hunt on his property. This guy had acres and acres of rolling, grassy hills, between which were nestled several coolies of thick trees and bushes- perfect hiding spots for mule deer.

Nervously, we pulled up to his house. "You come in with me," Brian said. "He'll have a harder time saying no to a girl." From what we'd heard about this rancher, we thought he'd be a crotchety, grumpy old guy. Nope! Both he and his wife were there, and they were so friendly. We chatted about the weather, and they gave us the go ahead to hunt to our hearts' content (as long as we stayed far away from the cattle). The rancher even rode out on his four wheeler to give us some tips.

Brian was on top of the world! We were sure that this was The Place to Shoot a Monster. We decided to hunt there right away, that afternoon.

Brian target-practiced for a bit, while I played with my camera.

We were excited to get stalking. Unlike hunting for whitetail deer, for which you'd sit for endless, boring hours in a tree, hunting for mulies entails lots of hiking. You climb to the top of a grassy hill (which incidentally doesn't look all that tough from the car, but seems endless when you're actually walking it), look around with the binoculars, (ideally) spot some mule deer, and then start walking toward them. There are also thick, brushy areas where the mule deer will hide, so if you don't see any mule deer from the top of the hill, you can stalk around those little valleys.

So, walk up, walk down, tiptoe. Walk up, walk down, tiptoe. Throw rocks into bushes to try to scare things out. Repeat over and over and over.

At one point, we definitely heard stirring in the brush. It was definitely a deer! The problem was that it was on the other side of a huge clump of brush, nestled somewhere inside it, and when Brian tossed rocks at the noise, the deer stayed put. We needed to stalk our way around the brush in order to get to the deer that was bedded down inside.

It took an agonizing ten minutes at least, tiptoeing ever... so... slowly. I stayed far behind in order to minimize the sounds of two sets of feet. When Brian finally reached the other side, his careful demeanor changed. He smiled and waved me over. "It's a fawn," he whispered.

The little guy (or gal) was scared. No wonder it wouldn't come out of the brush. We admired it for a while, and then trekked on.

The rest of the afternoon into the evening, we walked and walked, alternately creeping, climbing, letting our feet take us endlessly up and down, and tossing rocks into brush. But there was nothing for us but yellow hills and hot sunshine.

I was tired, very tired, at the end of the day. My feet were sore and a bit blistered, and I was so happy to be able to head back to our friends' house - with a real bed and a shower - that night instead of a tent. On the way home, we bought a bag of grits, shredded cheddar cheese, and a package of bacon, and made ourselves some bacon cheese grits on the stovetop.

With the whole pound of bacon and half pound of cheese. It was delicious.



  1. Those are some beautiful shots!

  2. Oops... somehow this posted before I was ready! I will have to edit those shots so you can see the whole things! haha... thanks Sky!