17 November 2006

Ruby Valley deer hunt

I am privileged to sometimes receive permission to hunt on a beautiful, well-managed ranch in the Ruby River valley (pic above). The place is full of whitetailed deer, sandhill cranes, turkey, pheasant, etc. As a restoration project, it was planned by a friend of mine -- Chris Boyer -- and it is a wonderful example of a how a cow-hammered property can be remade so that it functions both as a cattle ranch and as a nature preserve.

The ranch is an easy hunt (almost just shooting and not hunting really), but is an especially good experience for novice hunters. The ranch is laid out into large blocks with hunter access carefully controlled. You do not need to worry about moronic road hunters, careless shooters wandering through "your" area, or too many hunters chasing the critters off to neighboring properties.

I drove over for a late afternoon hunt last week, and shot two whitetailed does after watching many deer (including seven bucks, two of which were trophy-size) for an hour. Interestingly, after I shot the first it took only 5 minutes or so for the deer to calm down. If they do not see or smell you, then the noise of shooting and act of killing does not seem to disturb them.

AJ wanted to hunt a whitetail, and though I had hoped hunting season was over I agreed to show him this marvelous place. Saturday pre-dawn found us sneaking along a fenceline into our hunting block, watching dozens of deer, and having our hearts stopped by pheasant flushing at our feet. We sat at field edge in unmown hay, but the deer within shooting range were either bucks or fawns. The does get hunted hard in the Ruby, and they can be a little scarce toward the end of hunting season.

With sunup most deer retreated from the fields, and so I sent AJ to a hunting stand just inside a brushy wood bordering the field. Because he has sometimes shot unnecessarily and because I thought he was ready for it, I gave him only a single cartridge for the rifle. Then I walked a wide circle and approached the hunting stand along another brushy border. As I neared the stand, I heard the bark of my little 25 Roberts.

AJ was bending over as I approached and he said to me, "Every animal you kill is a gift." Good student, this lad. And he now has enough meat to feed his family for the entire year.

[Below is a little poem I wrote about my daughter Emily's hunt in this same place. Pat Munday
© 2005]

Tsik, Tsik, Tsa

Kalahari hunters listen to the stars, they sing “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.”

Late afternoon in Montana’s most beautiful river valley,
In a state full of beautiful river valleys,
Full of people thinking they live in Montana’s most beautiful river valley.

But there we were, Papa and Daughter,
Sprawled behind a fallen cottonwood,
Examining dried raccoon turds for fur, seeds, small bits of bone.

Peeking over now and then,
Surveying the field,
Willing a white-tailed deer into being.

Turkeys on the jackleg fence
Hop down to feed in wheat stubble,
Clucking soft, contented, confident chatter.

Pheasants too: Cackling; Miffed; Muscled out.

Sandhill cranes along the wood line,
Hooting and hollering on hallowed ground,
Pterodactyls on native soil.

The sun touches the western ridge,
Flocks of blackbirds fly to roost,
Pleasant distractions.

Then from thin air a young deer,
Innocent in the ways of the world,
Feeds ten feet away.

New coat fuzzy in soft light of dusk,
Harbinger preparing the way,
More muzzles peak from brush yon side of jackleg fence.

Daughter watches, memory of flesh recalls a dark clear night,
Just a baby Mother held her up arms outstretched,
“The stars are the greatest hunters, “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.””

Mother doe and fawn leap the fence,
Six feet high touch softly down look around,
Surveying the field.

Daughter rests rifle on fallen tree,
Sights, breathes deep, squeezes,
Will she release this trigger?

At dawn stars faded fast,
She aimed and pondered, pondered and aimed,
Declined to kill a deer whose time had not come.

Rifle crack marks the time,
Child comes of age,
Star destiny fulfilled.

Papa watches the doe,
Hears the bullet smack,
Three leaps bring doe to ground.

One hundred and fifty steps later
Daughter bows to death,
Reaches out to earth’s gift.

The knife’s work is done,
Entrails pulled into a neat pile,
Liver and heart laid carefully aside.

Meat for the table,
We are blessed, “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.”

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