Montana’s big game season comes to a close

The first rays of sunrise were shining on distant mountain peaks, holding the promise of some solar energy to warm things up a little. About then I would have really appreciated some of that solar energy. It was a bone-chilling 8 below zero when my hunting partner for the day, Nick Gevock, and I left the truck to walk up a wooded hillside in search of a good spot to wait for a white-tailed deer to show up.

I found stumps to sit on where I could look over a brushy meadow and settled in to wait, while Nick walked further to set up on another spot.

Stump sitting in sub-zero weather has several requirements. First of all, you need a pad so you’re not sitting directly on a damp, frozen stump. Second, you need enough patience to stay on stand, even when common sense tells you to go back to the truck and turn the heater on high.

It’s not bad at first, but the cold gradually begins to penetrate the layers of warm clothing.

I glance around the meadow and suddenly a whitetail buck materializes in front of me. It’s just 50 yards away and looking directly at me. I try to be motionless and as long as I’m perfectly still he can’t figure out just what that new object in the forest is. Finally, I decide I’d better raise my rifle. The deer decides that whatever I am I’m up to no good. Before I can get my rifle in any kind of business position the deer is gone.

And as the deer disappeared off into the forest, so did my best chance to put venison in the freezer. No other deer showed in that meadow this morning, even when the sun finally came up high enough to add a little warmth to the Christmas card scene of fluffy, white snow and blue skies. Nick rejoined me in late morning, reporting that five cow elk had spent the morning browsing about 25 yards from him. He’d gotten an elk the week before, however, so aside from the thrill, it was an empty morning.

We spent the afternoon on another hillside, with meadows full of deer trails through the snow. It had warmed up to +8˚ by then and with the sun shining it felt relatively comfortable. As the afternoon slowly waned, overcast moved in and chill began to take over. At sunset, I felt chilled to the bone, and finally stumbled back to the road through the twilight, not having seen any deer all afternoon.

A couple days later I had an afternoon free before other commitments would take over the weekend. I asked Flicka, my Labrador retriever, about hunting and she enthusiastically endorsed looking for pheasants. We put up a couple hen pheasants in a couple brushy river bottoms, plus one rooster that flushed out of range. In one brush patch I spotted a couple deer just a few yards away and I made a resolution that I should start carrying slug loads in my pocket for just these kinds of opportunities.

A couple days later we were on the road to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter in California. My deer season was over and I had somehow frittered away that long five-week big game hunting season without anything to show for it.

Hunting seasons are starting to wind down. The deer and elk season closed on November 27. The mountain grouse season will close on December 15.

Still there are a lot of hunting opportunities in coming weeks. Except for mountain grouse and sage grouse, upland bird hunting continues through New Year’s Day, and waterfowl seasons for ducks and geese continue through January 13 in the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana.

As of a week ago, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission was still taking comments on extending the wolf season through January

A winter wonderland for a November deer hunt

. The wolf harvest was at just 93 animals, far short of the goal of 222.

The big game hunting season may be over, but my plan for the next month is to go hunting.

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