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Remembering My First Montana Hunt

I knew moving to Havre would probably mean I’d have to skimp on amenities like bookstores, sushi, traffic and paved streets. And I was OK with that. Those things come at a price: lots of people, and consequently, less outdoors.

There are precisely a gazillion studies suggesting the more time we spend outside and away from our screens, the better off we are. Big news flash, I know.

The outdoors mean different things to people. For me, the outdoors is anything that can be done, well, outdoors — hiking, picnicking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, bird watching.

My favorite things to do outdoors are hiking, fishing and hunting.

With big-game rifle season just days away, I was reminded of my first successful hunt.

It was 2016, my first full fall living in Big Sky Country. A friend took a couple of us novices out.

It was as perfect as any Montana November day could get. There was no snow anywhere, and the temperatures were a scalding 40- or 50-something degrees.

Aside from our chaperone, I was the last shooter. Everyone, including a young ’un who landed an irresponsible yet miraculously dead-on shot at a fleeing buck, had filled their tag.

I was already resigned to finishing the day without a kill. It had already been a great day. Just being out there, a wanna-be hunter with the prospect of actually taking a deer, was enough. Just being out in beautiful country was enough.

After field dressing and loading the young’un’s buck — the bullet had grazed a line across its back leading into its skull — we decided there was still enough light to try and take a third deer.

So there we were, perusing a piece of Block Management land south of Havre, going down coulees, around humps, up coulees and back down.

I had just come around a bend in a coulee when, upon the opening of new landscape, what should appear but a very healthy looking doe, with two fawns nearby.

She was so close, no further than 60 yards.

“Taker her,” I heard someone behind me whispering.

Time slowed down.

I remember the doe looking at us. Just staring.

Looking back on it now, I can’t help but think the sun was blinding her.

I’m scrambling, panicking, trying to load a round while getting my steady stick planted and my rifle on it.

But for some reason, the task was impossible. Who was I to swing that stick from whichever hand was holding it and plant it on stable ground?

I abandoned that plan and went to Plan B, which I had just thought of.

I chucked my steady stick to the depths of hell and raised my rifle. I looked through my scope and finally found the doe. There she was, still staring at us, just as she was two hours ago.

I’m holding my bolt-action rifle up, propped against my shoulder. The crosshairs are swinging — left to right, back to left, between the front and back legs. And it wouldn’t stop. Remind me to cut back on the coffee, I thought. (It’s amazing the completely unrealistic things we say in desperate times.)

After another two hours of pendulum-like swinging, it became apparent I wouldn’t get a still shot. And since my steady stick was being used as a whipping tool by the prince of darkness, I wasn’t going back to Plan A, either.

I decided the next time those crosshairs swung onto the vitals, I was pulling the trigger.

Click.

I pulled the trigger but the only reaction was — nothing.

Silence.

I looked over and the deer is now eating, having deserted any sense of danger emanating from me.

It never occurred to me to slide the safety off.

I slid the safety off.

My first Montana deer.

Bang!

The doe folded over and rolled down the hill and the fawns dispersed.

We walked up to this beautiful creature and made sure she was dead. The shot was on the money, right behind the front shoulder. We prayed over her, thanked God for providing the opportunity. Then we field dressed her and dragged her up the hill into the open.

That doe made the most delicious steaks, some of which I fed Teresa during our courting days. Looking back on it now, I’m sure that’s what sealed the deal for Teresa, providing yet another reason to give thanks for that doe.

The number of hunters has been dwindling over the years. And that’s a shame, because hunting is a beautiful experience that touches and satisfies something deep down into who we are as humans. It’s a front seat to the cycle of life.

For three years now, I’ve had venison in my fridge. This year, I plan on continuing a tradition I plan to pass on to my son. If, sometime in the future, say between Oct. 26 and Dec. 1, you notice a substantial lack of stories by me, fear not. Nothing will have happened to me.

I’ll just be outdoors.

Paul Dragu is the editor of The Havre Herald. Email Paul at editor@havreherald.com

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