Montana Outdoors

March 29, 2007

A rule of the hunt.

Filed under: Hunting, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 8:12 pm

Slight wisps of steam lazily drifted above the river far below as it wound its way between the rocky canyon walls and steep forested slopes and hurried on toward the Pacific. Its deep pools looked like huge pieces of turquoise set in a tarnished silver band. It was a cold November day and a slight breeze nipped briskly at his face and ears as he climbed the ridge, one slow, careful step at a time. Overhead the sky was white, offset by a trace of silver, and it was spitting small pellets of snow into the crisp fall air.

The first mile of the ascent had been steep but now the ridge leveled out somewhat and the game trail he followed meandered along among tall green pines and tamaracks dressed in the vivid yellow of their fall color. The grasses, having grown tall and lush during the summer were now brown and dry and stood in striking contrast to the scattered clumps of dark green kinnikinnik bushes, decorated this time of year with bright red berries. Light traces of the previous night’s snow still remained on the rocks along the trail, creating a broken white border as though to show the wild users of the trail exactly where they should place their feet. Elk tracks mingled with those of deer, and his experienced eye told him that one of those who traveled before him that morning was a white-tail buck; his quarry.

Off to the left another ridge ran parallel to this one, some five hundred yards in the distance, across a deep and rugged ravine. That area contained rocks and cliffs and was the beginning of big horn sheep country. Seeing a slight movement, he stopped to glass the area, discovering a large cow elk grazing in a grassy area next to a jack-pine thicket; certainly enjoyable to watch, but for now of no further interest, simply a very pleasant interlude.

Another quiet and careful hundred yards and a small shelf appeared as part of the ridge itself, a flat place out of the breeze for thirty yards before the trail again resumed a steep upward slope. As he neared the shelf, off to his left and ahead he saw the faint flicker of a tail as it brushed away an annoying fly. The deer’s head was down as it fed on dry grass and browsed on some low-growing leaves. The hunter remained completely still, watching. Then, as the animal raised its head in its periodic survey of its surroundings a pair of antlers stood out in clear silhouette against the sky: a buck. At a range of fifty yards, it was an easy shot for the expert rifleman, but for some reason he hesitated, then began his stalk.

As the white-tail slowly grazed on it was clear that its direction would take it to intersect the game trail straight ahead of the hunter. When it put its head down to feed, he took one silent step, then another, then several more. Forty yards now and the deer was in full view with only tufts of tall grass and a few scattered service berry bushes between hunter and prey. Ever so slowly and silently he took a seat with his back against a small pine and raised the rifle, an inch at a time so the motion would not be noticed as the buck continued on. Thirty yards.

In the low power magnification of the scope, every hair stood out, perfect, as though groomed for display. The orange-gold of the deer’s summer coat had already given way to the browns and grays of winter. Its nose was black and moist, with two inches of white surrounding it. Its eyes were large and dark and bright, but didn’t see the hunter as he remained completely motionless: there was no apparent danger there.

The cross hairs of the scope now rested on the white hair in the center of its neck just below the small tufts of a juvenile beard and didn’t waver, even slightly. A slow and silent squeeze on the trigger and it would be an instant kill.

There was the ever so faint sound of a “click” as he slid the safety of the rifle back on, and no sound as all as he lowered the rifle again, inch by slow inch until he placed it on his lap. Not today.

There is a entry in that hunter’s rule book which states: “squeezing the trigger is not always a requirement for a successful hunt”.

Note: As the buck looked around to survey his surroundings, off to the valley side this is what he saw:

The valley below


  1. This is a wonderful post! I can very much see that having succeeded in the stalking, actually pulling the trigger would seem almost redundant. And after so much stillness and hush…rather jarring and out of place.

    Not always of course…but definitely sometimes.

    Thanks for pointing me to this one!


    Comment by gradschoolsara — November 20, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

  2. Exactly, Sara. There’s much more to hunting than shooting an animal in my opinion.


    Comment by montucky — November 21, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  3. My father would have loved that ending. (as do I.)


    Comment by Cedar — March 5, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    • You know, Cedar, I have been so pleased to see that in the last few years, my son has also adopted that way of thinking.


      Comment by montucky — March 5, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

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