Hunting seasons are reunion times for many

Alan Charles
Friday, September 13, 2019
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Star Outdoors Columnist

As I drove down into the Helena Valley from Canyon Ferry Lake last week, I saw a hand-lettered sign tacked to a white fence. Big, bold, red letters proclaimed: “Summer Is Over. Bummer! But Hunting Season Is Here! Yeehaw!!!”

That statement sums up the spirit of September for a lot of outdoor-oriented Montana folks and nonresident guests. Hunting seasons are times of annual campsite reunions, a refreshing of treasured traditions, and opportunities to capture new memories and moments.

This year, for me, it started with opening day of the upland bird season, when my older brother drove over from Billings with his black lab to hunt for sharptailed grouse. His dog and Teal, my golden retriever, are both ten-plus-years-old, in dog years nearly as ancient as are my brother and I.

As usual, the weather was too hot for the dogs to hunt very long, so we only hiked for an hour or so before retiring to a shady spot. We did not flush any birds, which was no surprise. But we were there, together, for one more season opener, and we smelled the sage and blooming rabbitbrush, saw a northern harrier hawk sweep low across the meadows, tasted the bite of ripe buffaloberries and watched a mule deer buck bounce out of a coulee. We shared a snack with our old dogs and napped in the shade, all of us, listening to the wind whispering in the pines.

I headed west, then, to meet friends for some time in the mountains. It was cooler up high, without the worry of rattlesnakes, and the leaves were already starting to turn colors. I hunted grouse with one special friend, a woman with whom I worked for twenty years, and who has shared many camps with my brothers and me over the years.

This was a special hunt, in a special place, where over the past two decades, she and I have shared the company of six different dogs, five of which are no longer with us. We laughed, and cried a bit, remembering some of those past hunts with Sadie, Hunter, Gaddy, Gander, Sadie II, and most recently, Teal. We hiked slowly, and stopped a lot, savoring the musty smell of rain-dampened earth, admiring purple clusters of whortleberries, plump dew-dappled rose hips, and white snow berries, all tucked under the canopy of huge, towering Douglas fir trees. We never flushed a grouse, but we saw squirrels and a small black bear, and found a big shed antler from an old mule deer buck. And we hunted together, one more time, another treasured reunion.

I stopped by to visit Ted, but he was busy packing to leave for his annual elk bowhunting camp in the Gravelly Mountains near Ennis. “I’m the oldest one in the group, now,” he told me. “But we have two young guys coming along again this year, and though they give me a lot of guff, they are there to help when I need it. So, here I go, for one more year. It might be my last time. But then, who knows, maybe not…”

Ron was already gone when I got to his place, up in the hills with his son setting up their archery opener camp. Joe was in the meadows at the Canyon Creek Ranch, scouting for deer. The waitress at Trixie’s on the Blackfoot River at Ovando showed me a picture of the bull elk her daughter had arrowed that morning. And Rob and Dwight were already sitting in their treestands along the Boulder River, waiting for elk to come down out of the timber at dusk.

So I circled around and headed back home. I’ve got other reunions to attend, and traditions to honor, just like you do, if you are a Montana hunter. We’ve got camps to set up, friends to meet, plans to make. Like the sign said, “Hunting Season Is Here! Yeehaw!!!”

( Alan Charles lives in Pine Hills.)

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