It's been a great run. I am still learning. For over 50 years it's been the privilege to hunt whitetails and mule deer. 50 years ago last fall Dad took me on my first elk hunt at age 15. He wanted me to be able to handle a horse in the mountains and not get hurt or he would have taken me sooner. I never fired a shot and we didn't get a good buck or elk on that trip but I can remember it like it was yesterday. Magical. Deep snow, elk tucked into basins that were impossible to get to. Horses so stout and sure-footed they'd give a mountain goat a run. Big muley bucks, dark beamed, heavy, beautiful animals in those Montana mountains. But if you want to read about me killing anything of note last fall in Montana you can stop reading right here. It didn't happen
I didn't draw a Montana license to hunt a buck or elk. I did get a whitetail fawn with this killing machine tho! That tag was only a $500 deductible. Didn't have a chance to brake and only doing 45 mph had a tab of $3,600. Ugh.
Paying thousands in property tax, providing fawning cover for around 100 fawns a year, providing winter cover and feed for maybe 200 deer doesn't justify a nonresident landowner in Montana to get a deer or elk tag. Far cry from TN eh? As a TN resident last year I tried to purchase my lifetime license and was rejected there too; paying good property tax TN says a lifetime license holder has to have resided in TN with a valid TN drivers license being held for over a full year. I know, I don't make the laws even though I have been buying nonresident licenses on and off in TN since 1989 and have owned my farm in TN since 2005.
But it wasn't all bad last year. I retired but more on that in a bit.
We arrived in Montana on 9/3. It is always a treat driving across Wyoming that time of year prior to antelope season. Heavy good looking bucks pre-rut moving solo ahead of the chaos and frenzy of the antelope rut. There's no place like WY to see massive numbers and it's a great time in early September for picture taking. With me was my wife and her Dad.
Many guys I know aren't blessed with having great in-laws. I am. We lost my wife's Mom in April and the trip to Montana with my father-in-law was good medicine for him. He hasn't been able to get out much over the last 10 years as he dealt with dementia/Alzheimers in his wife. Nasty, difficult, rough are adjectives that come to mind when dealing with such a horrible disease. The American healthcare system is broken and the massive number of people, 10,000 per day turning 65 will take a heavy toll on resources down the road. Like I have always said, health is a personal responsibility and the business of medicine is to get you to come back for more medicine. Turning 66 the other day I am blessed to not have a nicotine addiction, an alcohol addiction or a pill addiction. Lots of America wakes up every day looking at those internal fights right square in the mirror. Walking shoes, vitamins, exercise, weights, good diet and the occasional adult beverage so far seem to be working. By the way, some of the best advice I have ever gotten on losing weight is here on TNDEER. Thank you all, you know who you are.
Let me mention a couple things here. For those of you who hunt in areas away from your home territory, ONX Hunt map software has been an excellent tool. Anyone headed to another state should consider having it in your arsenal of tricks. It might help you kill a bomber and it might save you from a trespassing ticket. Cheap fun for sure.
Montana, eastern Montana anyway, this fall was wet and fighting mud and gumbo was the order of the day. Although I have a guides license in TN I am not a guide in MT and receive no compensation to hunt with friends and family. I pay for access to ground that can hold mule deer and elk and have for years. Some years we do good, other years not so good if you still believe that a successful hunt is about killing. What I have found interesting is the number of TN resident hunters that are venturing west to hunt and share their trips with this TNDEER bunch! What a great number of hunts to enjoy, see great pictures and the ability to read about it from the confines of a TN home!
Spending months in MT with binoculars around my shoulders is something I miss and every it gets reinforced more and more so I'll go ahead and say it. Spending $$$$ on great binoculars with a lifetime warranty is as important or more than having a big cannon to kill a deer with. Heart shots are heart shots. They will die with about any caliber. The number of hunters who hunt without binocs, I'll use Catoosa as an example, is hard to fathom. Imagine having some Swarovski 15 x 56's hanging on your neck. That is about the vision of a deer in the woods in thick cover. That is what the average hunter is up against and in poor light, binocs can make a huge difference in seeing deer and more importantly making an accurate assessment of bucks when point restrictions are in place. I am not a spokesperson for Swarovski and can understand the expense it takes to hang them around your neck. The beauty of Swaro's is in poor light, late light, tough weather. Over your lifetime it may pay off but the uses of binocs are so many. I still can't believe how few carry good binoculars into Neyland Stadium to bring the game up close and personal. They aren't battery powered, they work year 'round from your daughters dance recital to your son's pee wee football game to a golf tournament, to have in the boat at a bass tournament, you simple see so much more and will help decipher what you are looking at in areas where point restrictions are in place for either elk or deer.
It was a busy fall and we had a lot of friends come to Montana to see us. It's always nice to have friends come out to help with ranch chores and help enhance their hunt when the season rolls around and this year was no exception.
In late September we rolled up into Canada about 8 hours and got into the early migration. Always fun to have large numbers of snow geese overhead. Conditions up there were similar to Montana. WET! A big percentage of pea, lentil and wheat crops are still in the fields.We needed to be in 4 wheel drive getting out of Canada and were lucky to get home hitting ice and a snowstorm headon.
When we got back, actually the morning after we returned from Canada I was up at first light enjoying a cup of coffee and saw this youngster in eastern Montana out trying to find a cow to rut.......he was a couple of hundred miles from a cow moose but he was on the hunt!
My youngest son, Jordan, graduating this spring, May, 2020 from the U of GA with a degree in electrical engineering and his good pal were out to try to arrow a good buck in the September bow season start. They gave it all. These two fished together for 3 years on the UGA bass fishing team and love to hunt with stick and string. They had a blast, saw some good bucks, didn't get any shots they thought were appropriate and planned to come back in late November to give it another whirl. Midday found them hitting the islands where those bigger bucks love to lay up.
When the rifle season got underway a guy who has taken a good whitetail buck on my place wanted a mule deer and he shot an old warrior, near toothless. Really a heavy deer body-wise and a weird cool palmated rack. Nice buck for his first mule deer!
Proud Dad moment. Forever proud.Dealing with mud and tough conditions every day was hard. I'm not complaining, heavens sake I am living the dream every day! I have my health and live in America! We managed to get a couple of small bulls killed. We hunt a little differently than most MT rifle elk hunters. These elk are hard to get close to because by the time I gain access to the ranch we hunt they are shot, chased and gunned for a couple weeks. When they hear a pickup or 4-wheeler it is off to the races so we do things differently. We stalk hunt. Slow, methodical, always conscious of wind, sun and the habits of where elk love to lay midday in timber. Sounds simple huh? Right. It's thick so glassing from a distance isn't doable. We just hunt. Slow, quiet always looking, always glassing. Just put the miles on the boots and eventually it pays off. Bigger bulls were still on cows in bigger herds off the ranch we had permission to hunt on, property across the fence, on land we couldn't access, you get the drift. We could see elk at dusk just not hunt them. If you've hunted elk you probably know that all too well. They have large brains for a reason.
These are 2.5 year old bulls. Good eating!
November passed quickly and Thanksgiving week came fast. Jordan and his pal spent another tough week in some awful nasty cold and didn't turn up a good buck with their bows so they both settled on last night opportunity with a rifle. On his last night in MT his pal took this 5 x 6 whitey.
On the last night before Jordan headed back to study for semester final exams he looked at me and said, "Dad, I'm taking my rifle with my bow tonight". Jordan didn't draw a tag in MT in 2018 and he was feeling it so on his last night in MT he headed out with his HOYT and a Browning Bar .243 slung over his shoulder. Good thing he did because this brute didn't come any closer than 100 yards.
Heavy, mature, what's not to like?
We had a great early Thanksgiving and with my retirement have so much to be thankful for. We took our family Christmas picture in Montana!
On the last weekend of the season with my family gone I did what friends do and invited a local neighbor over to hunt. Here is my recap of my good neighbor Ed!
I have a great neighbor. His name is Ed. He is 72, husband, father and grandfather. Ed was an Air Force aviator and schooled as an engineer. Ed retired from the power plant facility in Colstrip, MT and with his wife keeps the Yellowstone River Valley in produce. Ed has been teaching bowhunter education in MT for 33 years. He has taught grandfathers, sons and grandsons bow hunter safety! Funny thing, Ed hasn’t shot a deer with a rifle in 33 years. All his teaching is on a volunteer basis. Ed provides onions, berries, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes to our family each fall. Ed is always around and does so much for us. This year he made wood duck boxes and helped me put them up. Last year it was bat boxes. On Thanksgiving I was at Ed’s table. He is always calling to check on my sons hunting luck daily. He has never asked for anything other than I put sugar in his coffee!
Well, I told Ed last month to come hunt. Bring your bow or rifle and enjoy yourself. He came over a few afternoons and sat on stand. Ed Had a great time but it never came together but that is bow hunting. So the other day I told Ed, come and kill a bomber. Told him no shooting small bucks. Told him no killing cull bucks. Only a tank for you Ed! Use a rifle when the wind is howling!This morning Ed was shaking like a leaf. He did it. With my help he got it done. The emotion was unbelievable. It was all I could do to hold back tears when he grabbed that massive bone and said “Buck of a lifetime”! I am humbled by how much Ed appreciated this opportunity. He made a great shot and listened to me every step of the way to get this magnificent deer on the ground. It was the only deer I saw for 3 hours today which in itself is simply hard to believe. In the blowing snow, glasses fogged, no gloves and unfamiliar weapon he made a great heart shot after I got the deer stopped. We were lucky. It was Ed’s opportunity and he made the most of it. It is friends like Ed that make Montana so special! Talk about being blessed today to give back to a friend so appreciative of what it takes to grow deer to maturity! I am so thankful and full of gratitude for what God provides and the enjoyment we get from our ranch. It is truly a magical place for growing deer and today was Ed’s day!
As for me, got back to TN in December and headed down to Georgia where I have a lifetime license and went for a walk. I love stalk hunting in south Georgia. Slow, real slow. Had fun and enjoyed myself. It's what hunting is all about.
Baiting is legal in Georgia now. That is my pals truck. I don't hunt over feeders or corn piles. Not my thing. Each to his own I reckon. TN hunters who feed corn to keep does around their hunting territory, I don't know if it is legal, I hear many do it, are like my friends in GA who are spending big $$$ to keep those deer from going to the neighboring property. Seems expensive to me but expensive is relative. I do know when I field dressed this buck he had more bait in his throat than most bird feeders! So I got me a buck! Am trying some jalapeno and Vidalia onion sausage out with him. Can't wait.
As for me, next year can't come soon enough. Maybe the tag gods will be shining on me. Maybe not. I'll still enjoy every second afield. Watching, studying, observing, making myself a better hunter. These old bucks don't just come easy. They are different animals at 4.5 years of age. Different tactics, different patterns, I still love the game.
May 2020 be your best year afield as well!
If anyone within an hour from Crossville needs coyotes thinned out I am pretty good at trapping coyotes and not educating them. I have been after them for nearly 50 years and know what I am doing and do it well. It's in my blood and would love to help teach or coach up a youngster or grandkid on the many aspects of catching them. As for retirement the jury is still out. I need time to figure things out. I have everything I need and most of what I want. One can't buy health, relationships, the love of my wife. Those always have to be worked at, nurtured, savored. I'll let you know more about how I feel about retirement next year. All i really know is work is good for the mind, body and soul. Every day now I get to work on things I want to do. Believe it or not I even have more time to pray!
I have a hunch the best is yet to come!
Congratulations on your first year of retirement Dean. It’s great seeing how much you, Pam, Hunter, and Jordan all enjoy being on the land at the ranch and the farm! Looking forward to visiting in both places in 2020!
Always a great read, Deano! Inspiring to see how your young men are doing. will expect a tix to J's graduation ceremony. i will be there. tg.
Enjoyed the read. Keep'um coming!
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