By Jonna Mary Yost
Buzzing down the Highway at 75 mph in the backseat of a Jeep on the way to float the Madison River, I saw three cow elk standing stock still, their heads turned toward us, nothing but blue sky and a few stratus wisps behind them.
It was an eerie moment for me: I’d been losing sleep the past few nights thinking of these majesties, wondering if my dreams would come true this fall.
It was August, and the car windows were rolled down. I pushed the wind back with a squint, trying to appreciate the scenery: the yellowing fields that probably didn’t make a second cutting, the thunderous clouds looming in the distance on that sunny afternoon. But all I could think of were elk.
My husband Benjamin and I moved to Bozeman this past spring and rented a house in town. Each night when I lay in bed, I pretend not to hear the neighborhood noises, wishing I were in the country instead – somewhere I could choose what time I mow the lawn and shoot my bow safely. When I fall asleep, elk blur my dreams and bugle between Benjamin’s snoring.
I’ve been practicing with my bow in our small backyard every night, a place quite different from where I grew up in northwest Montana.
Thinking back on those three elk, I squat flat as I draw my bow, ensuring the arrow’s broad head doesn’t do any arborist work when I release. The target is diagonal across the yard: If I shoot too high, the branch Benjamin uses for pull-ups won’t be quite as sturdy; too low and our zucchinis will be blended with our butternut squash – a medley I’d like to save for dinner.
Still holding my draw, my triceps burn, and I think of my cousin Gretchen, who is probably practicing shooting on her ranch south of Bozeman right now, plenty of space for letting arrows fly wild. Over lunch last week, she told me about her “honey hole,” a secret hunting spot where she shot a bull elk last fall, but also had a scare with a grizzly.
Spotting a small herd of bulls, she and her husband wound around a gully to get in position. Suddenly their small terrier raised its hackles and growled. Gretchen glassed the hillside and saw a grizzly bear, just in time to alert her husband. Gretchen still managed to down the bull, quickly hauling him out on horseback, knowing she was in a dangerous position.
Wheels on gravel grind to a halt. My husband is home and I am snapped from reverie. Before he dismounts from his bike, protesting about my makeshift archery course like I know he will, I put both eyes to the task, sight in where I want to be, and release the tension. The flooding realization of my exhausted muscles matches the sharpness of my focus as I follow the arrow to its home.
Benjamin props his bike against the metal siding inside the garage with a bang, and then he’s at my side, asking what the hell I am thinking, shooting my bow in the middle of the yard, in the middle of the city.
I smile. At least I didn’t mow the lawn at 6 a.m. this morning. It’s time to move out of town. But first, it’s time for bow season.