Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hunting the Sun River: Missoula 1989

As long as I'm thinking of that pheasant hunting trip with Bill in Montana, I might as well write about it. This was in the fall--in season--and Bill and I decided to drive from Missoula and head out towards Great Falls to hunt. We took his shotgun and his Brittany Spaniel, Gem, in my truck. We didn't know exactly where we were headed, and certainly didn't know anyone in the area, but it was a good day for a drive if nothing much else happened.
We left pretty early, taking Highway 12 along the Blackfoot River. Ate breakfast at cafe in Lincoln, then went further east until we got to Sun River, where we stopped at another cafe. At this cafe we had coffee, maybe ate a little more, but mainly we listened, listened to the people around us who were ranchers and such. I forget exactly how we struck up a conversation, but we talked to a small table of men and said we were looking for some land to hunt on. One guy was amiable enough. Turned out he had been stationed in Rantoul, Illinois many years ago (I had come with Fru from Champaign, had briefly worked in Rantoul) and he talked about how, in the winter, "...the wind would just cut right through you." (And I was thinking: Here's a guy who lives in the plains of Montana talking about a cutting cold wind?) But, he liked us enough to say we could hunt on his land. He had a small ranch just east of Sun River. Bill and I followed him there and he showed us the areas we could hunt--some coulees with brush, some fallow fields and old corn fields.
We were satisfied and thanked him. Told him we'd give him a bird.
Now, as I've said, I'm not a big hunter. I didn't have a gun or a license to hunt pheasant. Bill did. So, I was along for the experience, for the trip and day and views. And that land around Sun River is stunning. It's open plains with big monolithic-like buttes, buttes jutting up sudden and eroded, much like a mini version of Monument Valley (only not as orange). It's pretty land, man. So I was happy just to drive and walk through that scenery. But, we had hunting to do.
Gem, the dog, was probably the happiest. A hunting dog loves to hunt, no? So, he was out there sniffing everything. But there were no birds. I was walking along behind Gem and, all of a sudden, I flush a bird. It was a cock and it flew fast with that whirring sound they make. Bill took a shot, hit it, and it fell into tall corn stubble. But neither Gem or I could find it. Bill figured it was wounded, said they often will run away, undercover, when they land on the ground. We searched and searched, but the bird was gone.
We kept hunting.
Now, I don't really like to kill things, but I like the hunt. I can see why people like it. Anyway, we decided to try the coulees. I came out of a blind of dry willows and down into a coulee ditch and there, but maybe five feet away, is a big buck. I mean, this was a powerful beast with a huge rack of horns. I couldn't believe it. I stopped and stared at the thing. It stared back at me. It could have killed me, easily, but it took off. Like that! It was gone, up the coulee and across the pasture. I scrambled up and Bill was there and we watched that animal charge across the open land, cross the road, jump a fence and off off off it went. Man it was fast. Powerful fast. I'd never realized just how big and strong, how fast, they really were.
That was exciting.
By then we'd figured there weren't many birds around and we just wandered, letting Gem do his thing. But what happened was, Gem holed some animal beneath a fallen dead tree and that animal turned out to be a porcupine. Porcupine! Gem got a face full of it. Bill and I had to hold him down while we pulled big quills out of his mouth and nose. That had to hurt. There was whimpering and blood. After that, we'd had enough and headed on back.
Montana was good for a lot of things. There were times when I didn't care for life in Missoula--winter especially when the air-inversions happened and the pollution stayed in the valley and you'd have constant post nasal drip for weeks on end or when you wanted some complexity, a little sophistication, in your life and could hardly find it and Seattle was 12 hours away and the job market in Montana was no good, few decent jobs available, Fru and I were pretty poor in Montana--but there were great times too. Fun in Missoula, the cabin, fishing and camping and trips all over the state; good people. Fru and I missed it very much when we left. We still miss it, I think. We even went back three years later, with Fru applying for banking jobs, but it wasn't to be. Not to be.

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