By Nick Gevock
The morning air has a new coolness to it.
Every evening, the sun west of my home dips below the hills a minute earlier, and for the first time this summer, I notice the daylight is just a little shorter.
It’s that time of year – when I know that within a few days I’ll be combing the wild country in Montana with a bow in hand as bull elk scream in a fury during the rut.
I have yet to kill an elk with a bow, although I’ve had a few chances that just didn’t work out. But for me, the week I spend every year is so much fun I could care less whether I punch a tag.
The experiences of getting to explore great country, see abundant big game and get close to a host of wildlife ranging from big bull moose to foxes and eagles, makes September the best month of the year.
My annual trip to a corner of Montana that shall remain unnamed is a tradition that I hope to maintain for the rest of my life. Every year I gather with good friends and spend a week away from the cell phone, the computer, the stress of the office. It’s a chance to remember what hunting is supposed to be about – the experience and the fair chase, rather than some antler-obsession or the Boone & Crockett score.
The country where I hunt is some of the most unique I’ve ever seen. It’s not really mountainous, but rather big, broad hillsides punctuated by small willow-lined creeks. Moose frequently hang out in the creek bottoms, mule deer roam the hills and of course the elk most years are everywhere. It’s some of the best public land America has to offer.
One year I was awakened in my tent by the car as a herd moved to within a few hundred yards of the car in the early morning dark, again with the lead bull screaming in a fury. I didn’t have to walk far to get into the herd, although the band of cows made getting in close nearly impossible. Once again, I was caught and the herd ran off as I tried to work my way closer.
I’ve spent many an early morning walking through the sage brush, trying to get to a certain patch of timber before the elk made it there. I’ve had plenty of evenings sitting atop those hills, watching as the sun frames every ripple in the land as it slowly wanes. The air cools and in those final minutes of daylight, the elk get more active.
Some years are a full-on rage as multiple bulls fight to keep their harems in line. I’ve never been good enough to bring one of those mature, smart bulls in, although few come close. This year, the anticipation of putting it all together swells my neck.
These experiences also remind me of the value of our public lands. They’re the vast landscapes that we all own. These public lands make every hunter in America a king. We enjoy world-class hunting here, and with a little effort and planning we can be successful.
Maybe one of these years I’ll actually kill an elk with a bow. Maybe I won’t. But in the long run, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s being out among the rutting bulls and the vast expanses of open, wild, public country that matter.