Outdoor Moments Hunting for ‘trophy moments’

Alan Charles

Outdoors Columnist

Winter months are often times of meditation for Montana hunters, times when we look back over the past several months and contemplate our times afield. This time of year, we often see photos in our local newspaper and on bulletin boards in sporting good stores, tangible proof of successful hunts. Typically, these are snapshots of firsttime hunters with their first harvested game, or “OH WOW” pictures of a big buck or bull, or photos of the old bird dog or young pup, the campfire crew or pack-laden mules.

Over time, I have come to realize that the real trophies of a hunt are the trophy moments, those memories that become a rare currency to be saved in that unique memory account, to be withdrawn periodically and savored like fine wine or a favorite melody. While sometimes these trophy moments involve a particularly big animal if it is taken in a responsible and ethical way, more often these special moments are gifts from days afield that yield no harvested game at all.

For instance, one of the best waterfowl hunts I had this past autumn produced no dead ducks or geese. But as an old friend and I sat by the river with Teal, my golden retriever, listening to the decoys swish and sway in the current, we watched a snow-white ermine slink like a snake along the far shoreline while a muskrat swam through our decoys, a small woodpecker scratched and pecked on a branch not six feet from the dog’s nose, and a belted kingfisher strafed our spread. Mist rose like smoke from the frigid water while we just sat and sipped hot coffee and talked about births and deaths and life’s events.

Another waterfowl hunt yielded a most-amazing trophy moment when we dropped a wing-tipped goose about 300 yards away. As Teal raced to retrieve the goose, a golden eagle also swooped down toward it. Teal won the race and picked up the goose, but as he returned, the eagle made repeated stoops toward him, attempting, I assume, to make him drop the goose.

A moment etched in time.

On an elk hunt this fall west of White Sulphur Springs, my brother and I watched a group of 56 elk meander through sage and scattered timber toward us. The wind was right, and we were well-hidden, watching and waiting as the elk came to within 600 yards. Suddenly, a group of ravens, called a “conspiracy,” flew by overhead. When they passed above us, they made lots of noise, groinking and yawing and then going silent as they flew on. When they got above the group of elk, they began making those same noises. Suddenly, the elk, which could neither smell nor see us, threw up their heads and stampeded down the hill into the timber. My brother and I looked at each other mystified. Another magic moment.

Every hunt has the potential to produce its own trophy moments. Maybe it is the sight of an uncommon creature, like the snowy owl we spotted two days in row, sitting in a peafield north of Loma, just hanging out with a small herd of antelope. Maybe it is a certain sunset, like the one I watched unfold this past Veteran’s Day while I sat along the banks of the Powder River east of Miles City. The sky and surrounding hills slowly turned that magic purple lavender pink late-light color while I watched a young white-tailed buck spar with the willow bushes beside the river and a single beaver swam silently upstream against the steady downstream shove of a river full of early slushy ice.

Memories. Special moments. These are the real trophies of any hunt, with no license required and no limit for the hunter lucky enough to make the harvest.

( Alan Charles has published first outdoors columns stories and articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. since 1976. After spending the past 30 years working at Fort Keogh and more recently for Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, he retired and now resides in the Pine Hills east of Miles City.)

“Over time, I have come to realize that the real trophies of a hunt are the trophy moments, those memories that become a rare currency to be saved in that unique memory account, to be withdrawn periodically and savored like fine wine or a favorite melody.”

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