When our family arrived in Great Falls, Mont. for our annual Thanksgiving trip, it felt more like January than November.
Temperatures dipped below zero, and both the mountains and the lowlands were covered by a thick blanket of snow.
Undaunted, we headed out into the field to pursue our quarry of deer and elk. We hoped the animals wouldn’t dislike the conditions nearly as much as we did.
A friend of mine told me before the trip that, in cold weather, animals often will move to feed during the middle — and warmest part — of the day. His logic proved correct, as we did see some animals between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, the number of sightings was way down from previous years.
We hunted for a few hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday without success, though we did see a few whitetails that we tried to stalk. One of them was a dandy 10-point buck that we saw on a piece of private property that was designated as a Block Management Area (BMA). You can hunt BMAs as long as you sign in first.
My son, Andy, had a buck tag, so we tried to help him get the deer. Problem was, when we saw the buck, he was in a part of the BMA that was labeled as a safety zone, which meant Andy could neither shoot the deer nor walk onto that portion of the BMA.
So, we were left setting him up just outside the safety zone in the hope that the buck would eventually leave the zone and venture into Andy’s line of sight. After a few minutes, he did, but at a dead run. Andy waited for the buck to stop so he could shoot, but the 10-pointer kept running until he was out of sight.
He ran across the road to another BMA, so we followed. We saw him in a field, so Andy and I began another stalk. But, the buck and a doe he found ran back across the road to the safety zone. This time, the deer stayed put.
Later, my son, William, and I saw two does bedded on a hillside and tried to stalk them. But, they spooked and we never got a shot.
That’s how it went for several days until, finally, the weather warmed up on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Temperatures climbed into the upper 30s, and we went out at dawn with high hopes.
This time, my son, Joe, was with us. He is going to college at the University of Dallas, and his grandpa, Bob Guditis, and his wife, Sharon, generously bought him a plane ticket to come for Thanksgiving weekend. This was his second day of hunting, and we were hoping to fill his doe tag.
We went to the two adjacent BMAs and did the mandatory sign-in to gain access to hunt. As we were signing the book on one of them, Bob spotted a deer walking toward a row of pine trees. He looked through his binoculars and saw that it was the 10-pointer.
Problem was, Joe and I only had doe tags, and Andy was busy chasing elk with my brother-in-law, Jerry Gray, higher up in the mountains. Bob had a tag, but he had been sick with bronchial pneumonia for several weeks and didn’t have enough strength to go on a stalk for the buck.
So, Joe and I decided to try hiking the tree line in the hopes that a doe was with the buck. We hadn’t gone 100 yards into the tree line when we got our answer — a doe was bedded in some brush. We crawled out of view, then moved toward the doe.
We hadn’t gone far when we saw the deer walk out into the field in front of us. On the second shot with the .270-caliber rifle Grandpa Bob had given Joe, the deer went down. I was thrilled for Joe. He now was going to have some venison to take back to school and grill for his friends.
Meanwhile, Andy and Jerry came upon a herd of elk and took some shots. Andy missed at about 250 yards, and Jerry hit one that started bleeding in the snow. He tracked it for more than a mile before finally giving up. Obviously, it was not a fatal hit.
They were disappointed, but glad to have at least seen some elk, which hadn’t happened on our three previous trips. This year, because of the deep snow, the elk were down lower on the mountain, where hunters like Andy and Jerry could encounter them.
On Saturday, the last morning of the hunt, we were hoping to connect with deer and elk. I went back to the two BMAs with Joe and Grandpa Bob, while Andy went back up the mountain for his last chance at an elk. None were spotted, but a decent mule deer buck appeared with several does, and ended up walking right at Andy, Jerry and his wife, Jessica. When the buck stopped at about 45 yards, Andy took the shot and tagged the second muley buck of his life.
Meanwhile, Bob, Joe and I drove a gravel road that ran through one of the BMAs. We saw two animals bedded about 750 yards into the field. We were pretty sure they were whitetails, so off I went on what I hoped would be my last stalk of the trip.
However, I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. I had terrain cover for only the first 50 yards of the stalk. After that, I would be in full view of the deer the rest of the time.
I decided to go for it, figuring either the deer would spook right away, or I would successfully move to within rifle range — about 300 to 350 yards.
Amazingly, the deer didn’t spook when I walked over the hill and into view. They were facing perpendicular to my path, and seemed not to notice me. Plus, I got a nice bonus when some dogs on the adjacent property started barking and making a ruckus. The deer’s eyes were locked on the dogs, giving me the chance to sneak in.
Eventually, the deer turned their heads toward me and spotted me. There was a buck and a doe, and the doe stood up. I easily identified her as a whitetail doe that I could shoot, rather than a mule deer, which I could not.
To my surprise, she did not run. I walked a little closer, then got down on all fours and crawled for about 25 yards. Then, I got down on the ground and set up my backpack as a gun rest. I placed my 7 mm rifle on the pack and zoomed the 4-12 scope in on the deer. The pack proved to be a steady rest, and I settled the crosshairs on the deer’s shoulder and pulled the trigger.
She ran a little ways and fell, while the buck jumped to his feet and ran off. But, he eventually decided he didn’t want to leave the doe, so he turned and started coming back. He got to within rifle range as he trotted back toward his female companion.
If only someone with a buck tag had joined me on the stalk. Oh well. We were far from disappointed. We brought home plenty of venison, which now sits in the brand new freezer we bought just before the trip.
And, the best part of all — Bob shot an elk on Sunday morning, the last day of the season. Not long after reaching his land, he and Jerry saw a herd of elk crossing a four wheeler trail. Bob got his gun ready just in time to shoot a spike bull. That gives Bob and Sharon the elk meat they were hoping for.
God was so good to us, and I am grateful for his many blessings on our trip, especially Bob’s elk. Bob is very generous to us — and he always puts our desire to bag an animal ahead of his own. That means he spends most of his time helping us. And, he does so cheerfully, without complaint.
Thus, my final prayer of the trip was that the Lord would grant Bob an elk. And, once again, God came through.
That was the perfect end to a wonderful vacation.