A Montan Hunt. Warning, strong Christian overtones

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A Montan Hunt. Warning, strong Christian overtones

Post by omgb »

A Silence Not Broken

In the fall of 1980, I was stationed in Great Falls, Montana and finishing up my 5th year in the USAF. I was married, with two small children and money was tight. To lighten the burden, I hunted. I went for birds, deer, antelope and even elk. 1980 was an especially tough year. I was an E-4 making $540 a month and gas was now over $1.25 a gallon. Driving, any driving, was done on a “have to” basis. So, as I began my deer season, I was pretty frugal with my expenses. I drew a tag for Area 110 in Moore Montana, about 100 miles South of our home. This was an area I knew well. My hunt would be on the Pete Nelson ranch, so I had to drive down and ask Pete for his written permission to hunt. While there I would spend the day scouting the area for deer. This was trip number one. $14.

A couple of weeks later, I drove down again to scout the area. I arrived before dawn and hiked into Pete’s woods. I waited in the trees overlooking a huge wheat field and took notes. I sketched the area, took notice of the number and size of the deer, where they were moving, what time they were moving etc. I stayed the day, making more maps and notes and recording the deer movement until night fall. I then returned home, two hours to the North. This was trip number two. $14

For the next couple of weeks, I studied my maps, notes and drafted a plan. The night before opening day, I loaded the car with my Browning rifle, a couple of blankets, food, ammo, rope, game bag etc. It was a lot of stuff. At 2:00 AM I kissed my wife goodbye and headed South planning to arrive about 2 hours before legal shooting time. After a long, black drive, no towns, no lights, just empty darkness for 100 miles, I arrived at the ranch. I pulled off the road and parked. I reached up and turned off the dome light. No sense in letting game know I was there. The air was cold, hovering in the low teens. A light snow had fallen and covered the ground with white powder. It crunched under foot. Stealth was not going to be easy. I grabbed my gloves, zipped up my parka and pulled the flaps of my hat down over my ears as I began the long hike up the trail and into the woods. The trek seemed all the longer due to the uneven terrain and the almost total darkness.

As I walked up the access trail, I passed a few dozen head of cattle who looked up from their slumber just long enough to voice their displeasure at being disturbed. It was so cold the breath of the cattle froze into a frosty rime-ice coating on their faces and nostrils. Ice was clinging to my own mustache and my cheeks stung from the chill. I pulled my hat down harder as I moved silently past them. 500 yards more and I arrived at a well-worn game trail at the edge of the woods. This area, between forest and field, creates what biologists call the Edge Effect. Deer pass through it twice daily as they migrate from their beds deep within the forest to their grazing area out among the wheat stubble. The effect creates the most productive and reliable zone wherein to encounter game. It’s here that I veered off and entered the woods about 20 yards. I walked parallel to the field for a bit and sat down with my back to a stand of trees. From this vantage point I could clearly see the game trail to my left and the open field just ahead of me about 50 yards out. I was shaded by the trees and brush, making me invisible to the game in the field. Here I sat, cross-legged and silent, waiting for legal shooting time. It was only 20 minutes away but it seemed like an eternity. Days and hours of careful planning were all resting on what would happen in the next quarter of an hour.
As the minutes slowly counted down, it grew gradually lighter. I studied the field through my binoculars. At first, I saw nothing. After a while though, I began to see fuzzy, indistinct shapes moving slowly in the half light of dawn. A light snow had begun to fall from the windless sky. It was eerily silent. The snow grew heavier as the sun slowly peeked over the horizon. Large flakes were drifting down gently through the air. With those flakes it seemed as if all sound was sucked into a giant black hole. So silent was the forest, I could actually hear the blood pumping through my arteries and into my brain, a steady shush, shush, shush with every beat of my heart. The fabric of my parka shouted at me as it chafed whenever I moved.

As it grew lighter those indistinct gray shapes slowly revealed themselves. In front of me, ahead by maybe seventy-five yards, was a large harem of does. I counted 25 animals in all. White tails, they were just grazing away, completely unaware of my presence. A thought flashed through my head. How often are we like those does; obliviously going about our business, blissfully unaware that we are being observed from the shadows? I glassed the area further, looking beyond the does into an area shielded by their bodies and that’s where I found him. He was magnificent. A large whitetail buck about 5 years old with an impressive rack and more importantly, an impressive size. Clearly Pete Nelson’s ranch had been an abundant larder for this solid animal. This was the deer I wanted. I put my plan into action.

The buck would have to let the does go on ahead. They do that…a kind of sacrificial arraignment where the does risk death from predators to shield the mature breeding bucks, chivalry is a human construct. This would require patience. I moved up so that my body was sitting on three points: my butt squarely on the ground, my feet about shoulder width apart, elbows resting on my knees and the rifle pulled tight against my shoulder. It was a perfect position to shoot from; rock steady and just high enough to see without being seen. The stillness of the air and the snowfall took care of my scent. For all practical purposes, I was invisible to those deer. This was the perfect ambush.

Soon the herd began to meander back into the woods. They passed Infront of me not 200 feet away, two thirds the length of a football field. I could throw a rock that far. I watched as the herd did exactly as I had hoped, they strung out, leaving the buck out in the open. I took off my gloves to get a better feel on the trigger. I thumbed the hammer back on my Browning and slowly settled the crosshairs of my sights on the animal’s chest. He was turned slightly sideways to me with his chest fully exposed. A perfect shot. As I took a full breath and then let it half out, I slid the safety to fire and began to squeeze the trigger. He was mine. A summer’s worth of planning, the long drives, the hike up the hill, hours of practice at the range, all culminated in this precise moment. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I froze. I couldn’t shoot. I wanted to shoot, oh how I wanted to shoot, but I just couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. I gently let the hammer down and sat up. There would be no shooting this morning.

The deer, including that huge buck, slowly melted into the tree line and disappeared into the woods. I sat there for a good long while. What the heck was I thinking? All that work, all that money, hours, no, days of my time, and I just let him walk off. Why? I drove home in silence, ruminating on all that had transpired. To say I was confused would be an understatement. Bewildered is more accurate. My brain was a collection of disjointed thoughts, yet somehow, I was satisfied, at peace really, and oddly, joyful. I was genuinely at ease with my decision not to take that deer though for the life of me, I didn’t know why. The answer wouldn’t come to me for several days.

So why couldn’t I take that shot? What had come over me? God had given me everything I asked for, and then when it all came together, I just couldn’t take it. The answer came to me while sitting quietly alone late one night. That morning up on the ranch, was a “holy ground” moment. Like Moses in front of the burning bush, everything had come together at a pre-ordained moment and place, and I was in the presence of God. His world was stretched out at my feet. His person was so strong, it was deafening. The black hole of silence? That was His magnificent glory. So all-encompassing was it, that it blotted out everything else around me. To do anything to disturb that somehow would have been profane. This is what God meant when He moved David to write: “Be still and know that I am God”. On that fall day, in that moment, I was permitted to sit in the physical presence of the glory of the Almighty God. Though no words were spoken, God told me volumes in that silence.

That was almost half a century ago and my eyes moisten just recalling it. Little did I know at that time there would be other moments like that in my life. This was the beginning step of a lifetime of walking with God. It’s funny, who would have thought that a man would encounter the Glory of the Almighty on a Central Montana deer hunt? I suppose I should have known better. When I read the Bible, God almost always appears to mankind when they least expect it; to a Jewish zealot on the Emmaus Road, or maybe a woman getting water at the village well, or to a group of simple fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. God in His infinite wisdom grabs us when He can best get our attention. Then He reveals just enough of Himself that we get just a taste of the glory to come. What an amazing Lord we have.

I did get my deer that year. I took it two weeks later at another location. I honestly don’t remember too many of the details. It was just an ordinary deer hunt, one of many over the course of my life. It’s the one not taken however, that I remember best.
Reece Talley
James Madison Fellow
Cal Hunter Ed Instructor/NRA Rifle/Shotgun Inst.
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Re: A Montan Hunt. Warning, strong Christian overtones

Post by SFogler »

Beautiful story Reece. I hope you submit it, and maybe if you have others like it, for publication in a magazine somewhere. You are a terrific writer. And I agree with the point of the story.
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