An ethical dilemma

By Mike Everett EBS Contributor

This fall I came across a situation that tested my hunting ethics. My friend, Sean Gummer, and I were bow hunting and found a cow elk that appeared stuck in a steep, boulder-filled draw. We initially thought the animal had her hind legs pinned in the boulders, and approached the elk to free her.

Upon closer observation, it was evident that she wasn’t stuck, but was unable to stand. We immediately backed away to let her relax. The elk was on the path we would take back to camp, so we decided to check on her that evening. When we revisited the draw later, she hadn’t moved. Here was the dilemma: We knew she was hurt and couldn’t move, but we had to do something.

We felt sick seeing her in so much pain, which is ironic because hunting is usually considered successful when it results in the death of an animal. Yet hunting also creates compassion for the animals we’re trying to kill. We theorized that maybe wolves had chased her, so we left her alone again hoping rest would be her ticket to survival.

The author next to an injured elk that he and his hunting partner found during bow season this fall. PHOTO BY SEAN GUMMER

The author next to an injured elk that he and his hunting partner found during bow season this fall. PHOTO BY SEAN GUMMER

The last day of our hunt came and she still hadn’t moved. When I got cell service, I called the game warden for advice. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get to her immediately, and gave us the option of dispatching her ourselves. I had my reservations and called my father, a former wildlife biologist. I wanted to give the cow every chance I could. My father arrived, looked her over, and decided she couldn’t be saved.

We had the legal go-ahead, but ending her life was the last thing I wanted to do. I longed to see her get up and run away, but the reality was that she wouldn’t. If I didn’t kill her, it was likely she would be discovered by predators and eaten alive. I knew putting her down was the ethical choice but I dreaded it. My father and I decided to back away and approach from an angle where she couldn’t see it coming and would remain calm.

With a well-placed shot her agony ended. She didn’t feel a thing.

‘Hunt ‘em up’

By Megan Paulson EBS Staff Writer

You don’t need to tell the dogs. They just know. Whether it’s the smell in the air, cooler temperatures, or the change in the sun’s position on the horizon, hunting season is one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences I’ve had with my dogs.

When I contemplate why I enjoy hunting, surprisingly the answer doesn’t revolve around the outcome, but rather the experience.

“Hunt ‘em up!”

I’ve never found three words that mean so much. The dogs are poised at the edge of a field for the hunt, shaking in anticipation to run and barely able to wait a moment longer.

For our two Labrador and German shorthair mixed-breed dogs, hunting season is the equivalent of bird Olympics. Mountain hillsides lined with aspen and pine, and Conservation Reserve Program fields act as their stadiums. The competition to find and flush prey is fierce. They bring their best performance, work hard, and demand only a first-place finish.

“Hunt ‘em up!” Hearing that command the dogs are off, noses to the ground, zigzagging methodically from one side of the field to the other. Despite the chaos of unleashing dogs into an area potentially full of birds, it’s amazing to watch their precise and systematic approach. No scent is left unturned.

When they locate a bird, they slow their pace to inspect the area. Then they come to a complete stop, pointing at the spot where the bird is bedded down. “Holding point” tests not only the dogs’ patience, but also mine as a hunter.

“Hunt ‘em up!” The dogs erupt for the final flush. As the

The author’s dogs Grady and Hidey on point during a Thanksgiving hunt in North Dakota. PHOTO BY MEGAN PAULSON

The author’s dogs Grady and Hidey on point during a Thanksgiving hunt in North Dakota. PHOTO BY MEGAN PAULSON

silhouette of a pheasant with colorful tail feathers comes flying out of the cover, only one thing going through your mind: “Don’t miss.”

You never want to experience the first time your dog gives you “the look” for missing. However, a successful shot along with the look of joy on their face, the gallant stride and pride in their step after fetching – with a mouthful of feathers – puts a smile on your face.

In that moment, I’m fulfilled. But they give me another look: Let’s go get more!

The season of change

By Koy Hoover EBS Contributor

Leaves are changing color and some are falling to the ground as the evening breezes displace them from their summer perches. The air is becoming crisper and cooler, and the raptors are more numerous in the blue September sky.

Grasses are dry, brittle and brown. Squirrels are working feverishly to gather their winter food supply from the tree cones, and the elk bugle incessantly. These are all signals that the fall hunting season is upon us once again.

For many people the hunting season is purely about the successful harvest of animals that will nourish their families, and possibly produce a trophy to remember it by. For others it’s about spending more time in the remote areas of the plains or mountains during one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. For me, it’s more than just a combination of the above.

It’s a time of solitude, to escape and blend into the ecosystem – a time to adapt to the different terrain and flora in which your species of pursuit is built to survive. It is a return to some of the oldest primal instincts of humankind.

You’re playing a game of hide-and-seek with an elusive animal on their home field. It may entail crawling for hours on your stomach through sage, grass and cactus to sneak unseen within bow range of a pronghorn. The next day you may be stealthily scaling some of the largest mountains in the region to have a face-to-face encounter with a majestic bugling elk.

You can find yourself within a couple feet of a springing jackrabbit or rattlesnake on the plains. It could be a molting snowshoe hare or a grizzly bear in the mountains. The bunnies don’t worry you much, but the other animals keep your senses on full alert – especially since much of the “morning commute” to your hunting locations takes place in the cool darkness.

Pursuing these adventures alone is best for the soul, but not necessarily for self-preservation. Spending time with hunting companions, both friends and family, is truly safer. It also allows for the sharing of incredible experiences between people without much else in common. Either way, it’s a time of year that should not be missed. Get out there and soak it in.

Hunting in Montana, take 1

By Matty McCain EBS Contributor

During my first hunting season in Montana – one of the first of my life – I purchased my sportsman’s license and a turkey tag. I had no idea the adventure, excitement and education I was going to experience.

I’d only just begun to understand the ins and outs of the block management system, as well as access to Bureau of Land Management and state lands. With my newly purchased Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, hunting regulations and guns in hand, I hit the road.

After finding some state land and donning my orange outerwear, I wandered around terrain completely void of deer and their signs. Frustrated and tired, I sat down under a shady pine and took a nap. Once I was well rested I glassed around hoping a deer had wandered into the area.

But there were no four-legged creatures to be seen – clearly they were napping too.

Heading back to my truck I finally saw some game. To my surprise, 10 turkeys came into sight and I ran to the truck to grab a shotgun. When I returned to the last spot I saw the birds, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about turkey hunting.

From the corner of my eye I saw something running over the ridge about 20 yards away and I went off in hot pursuit, hoping to harvest a Thanksgiving feast.

Sneaking toward the ridge as slowly as I could, I saw nothing, and as I stood in wonderment, I didn’t know what was watching me.

Suddenly, a feathered dinosaur with talons flexed came flying down from above. I had no idea turkeys perched in trees – lesson learned. As this Merriam’s wild turkey tom soared by me, I pulled myself together. Shouldering the shotgun and taking aim in what may have been a self-defense reaction, I harvested my first turkey.

My inaugural Montana hunt was a success: I brought home a Thanksgiving feast and enjoyed turkey gumbo the rest of the year.