September was coming to a close and I had a half-day to hunt. I got up in the dark per usual, wolfed down breakfast, and dusted out of the driveway. After about an hour on groomed gravel roads, I pulled off onto a familiar two-track. It was a questionable excuse for a road leading to my secret honey-hole.
I bumped along, headlights illuminating the way through the crisp, dark morning. Out of the corner of the headlights, I caught a flash of movement. I nearly kept driving, but the curiosity in me won, as it almost always does. I slowed to a halt and slapped the F150 into reverse.
“I don’t know if they’re still here,” I whispered as we knelt together on the grassy forest floor. It was too quiet. Only a light breeze shifting branches made any sound. Much different than the previous afternoon when we had four bulls screaming relentlessly back and forth, all within 100 yards of this very spot.
Archery elk is unparalleled in adventure consistently yielding the highest of a highs and lowest of lows. September never fails leaving me mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. So, naturally, I look forward each year to my second favorite hunt—eastern Montana rifle mule deer. This hunt promises mild terrain and loads of action. 2019 was no exception; Ben and I had planned and anticipated our eastward trek for the last 365 days. We were finally burning rubber and as the miles rolled by, my imagination ran wild anticipating monster muleys rutting through sage.
It seemed as if it would never end. We camped in it, trudged through it, tirelessly made fire with wet wood, and tried to make light of it. And there we sat in the truck as the never-ceasing, pounding rains clattered against the roof, windows, and doors. Even worse, the wind had picked up and now howled in all directions. Four days had passed and I felt like I had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this hunt, yet had nothing to show for it. It looked as if day five would define me before I even stepped foot into it.
I am fortunate to live and hunt in a state that allows me to hunt the rifle and archery seasons. I can hunt bucks and bulls for the better part of three months! It is a blessing that helps me fill my freezer each year.
The 2019 Montana archery season is winding down. A summation of this season using one word: humbling.
I am well known for being a little on the cheap side. I am also well known for not being much of a technology guy (despite the blog). I have been the butt of many good-natured jokes over my lack of technology. In fact, I was recently in a jesting match at work over my lack of a Netflix or Hulu subscription. My wife and I don't watch TV shows and we typically rent movies the old fashioned way—from a movie store. Apparently, way weird.
The spring bear season was winding down. In fact, it was the last week to hunt this unit and the last day I had to fill my own tag. This season had been an absolute blast thus far. I had gotten to spend a fair amount of time in the mountains and was blessed to see numerous bears. Mr. Big had yet to show himself.
Whole, halved, quartered. Hide on, hide off. Gutless, gutted. Packs, backs, bikes, trucks, and ATVs. I feel like I have taken game animals out of the woods in about every fashion except for the use of pack animals. Early on we often did things the hard way because we didn't know any better. Today, I predominately use the gutless method to quarter my game and carry it out of the woods in my pack. I have acquired some… unique pack out stories over the years in my hunting journey. One, in particular, comes to mind.
In the middle of July, I was hiking out of the mountains after a successful day of elk scouting. The setting was beautiful at 9000 feet. Despite the summer's warmth, ice and snow stubbornly clung on the steep declines to the west beneath a bluebird sky. A mountain goat clambered among the rocks, adding to the majestic scene. As I glanced to my right, a flash of tan caught my eye. I did a double take and observed two spike bulls and a 5x5 had wandered to the top of a nearly vertical ice field dropping about 100 yards. I guess they wanted the fast way down. Maybe they wanted an adrenaline rush. Whatever the reason, I know what I saw next.
It had been five years since I hunted with my favorite hunting partner and father, Mike Patrick. I had plenty of excuses; moving around the country for the Army, getting a new job during hunting season, and long distance. So in the fall of 2018, I was really looking forward to my dad drawing a non-resident Montana deer tag. We would have five days together chasing deer again. I could not wait.
I love to hunt for a lot of reasons. More reasons than will fit in this article; but one rose to the surface. That is, hunting speaks to the heart of manhood. This aspect of a man’s heart is not limited to hunting of course. For other men it may be fulfilled through woodwork, ranching, or a myriad of other activities. Woman hunters are on the rise and I do not mean to dissuade them. I simply seek to point out that certain aspects of adventure, manual labor, and large muscle movement activity speaks in a special way to men. For me, I find this fulfillment through hunting. What do I mean?
I left Montana in 2013 for the military. After four years of missing western hunting and beautiful mountains, my wife, Rachel, and I finally moved back. Now it was September of 2017 and I could not have been more excited. I reconnected with college buddy Seth Adams, and we made plans for a hunt.
Every year opening day came. I would watch Dad get ready to go. Gear was organized and packed, stories were told, and the rifle was sighted in. I would sit and watch Dad clean his rifle with dreams of carrying it into the forest myself one day. The wood stock gleamed and glistened, boasting of great responsibility and adventure. The smell of gun oil my father used would grow into nostalgia for the rest of my life.
There is a combination of being in the middle of God’s wild creation, observing beauty, and the thrill of the hunt that sets something loose inside me. This feeling must go back to the beginning of time. Today, we pursue it like never before. Photography, writing, social media, guiding, and production of the newest gear all lures the hunter’s dollar and distracts the heart. While these crafty pursuits do open collaboration and opportunity, I fear the modern day approach threatens the mystery and nature of the hunt.
The mountain soothes my soul. Here, all is as was meant to be. Man in God’s creation. His majesty fills me. If only for a moment I belong in the design, a natural part of the landscape and rhythm of life. The crisp breeze shuffles branches and whispers across my face. A soft scent of pine mixed with the pungency of my quarry. The unmistakable scent is gone in a flash with a fickle twist of the wind.