Montana’s Big Game Season Ends

Here I am with my deer. It’s not a trophy deer, but really good eating.

As usual, it’s one of those good news/bad news deals. The bad news is that the big game hunting season is over. The good news, or at least a bit of relief, is that the big game season is over.

The 2010 general big game hunting season pretty much ran to form, and so did the weather. Those two things usually go hand-in-hand. The season opened with some early winter weather, and then we had an extended period of mild weather, and then winter came back with a vengeance, with sub-zero temps and blizzard conditions during Thanksgiving week.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reported outstanding hunting success in southwest Montana the next to last weekend of the season with large numbers of deer and elk coming through FWP game checking stations. The last weekend of hunting happened after my deadline for this issue of the Weekly, but for hunters able to escape Thanksgiving tables and football games long enough to get up in the high country and hunt, there were rewards.

Personally, I had a perfect big game hunting season. I left home at midday on a snowy and drizzly afternoon, spotted some white-tailed deer at 3 p.m. and fired my rifle once. Within an hour we had the deer dressed out and loaded for the trip home.

As some readers may recall from some previous columns, there are traditions among the Native Americans of North America that the animal the hunter is meant to take will offer themselves to the hunter. Scoff if you wish, but every year personal experience seems to reinforce that tradition. Taking it a step further, that bond between hunter and game animal means the hunter needs to exercise a higher level of responsibility.

That responsibility includes the obligations to hunt in an ethical manner, observing game laws and regulations, and then, when the magical moment happens and the animal is in your sights, to shoot carefully so that the animal will die quickly and with minimal suffering.

On my hunt, my friend John Jacobson, and I discussed this magic, even sacred, moment of the hunt and I commented that while we don’t celebrate the deer’s death, “I am happy that I did my part of the hunt well and that the deer didn’t suffer.” I know this all too well from some past experiences when I didn’t do my part of the hunt as I should have. Some of those memories still come back to haunt me.

 The venison is now stashed away in the freezer and will be the centerpiece of a number of meals in coming months, though one small whitetail doesn’t amount to a lot of meat, sorry to say. Still, each meal will be an occasion to celebrate that gray November day when we reaffirmed those ancient bonds between hunters and wildlife.

While the big game season is now over, there are many more hunting opportunities in coming weeks.

The mountain grouse season, which includes blue (dusky), ruffed and spruce grouse, runs for a couple more weeks before it closes on December 15. Other upland game seasons, including pheasants, partridge, and sharp-tailed grouse, run through New Years Day, and waterfowl seasons extend almost to mid-January. Sage grouse hunting ended November 1.

If my idea of a perfect big game hunting season means firing my rifle just once, the perfect season for the shotgunner is when we do a lot of shooting during the four and a half months of the Montana upland bird and waterfowl seasons. By that standard I’ve had a good hunting season, but need more outings to make it a great season. I’m hoping weather and road conditions will be good enough to get in those late season hunting days.

Flicka, my Labrador retriever and always-enthusiastic hunting partner, is depending on me to help her get out for these late season hunts. She has also been reminding me that we lost out on some hunting opportunities because we went traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday.

 I’d better make it up to her.

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