By Ashley Westphal Explore Big Sky Contributor
Hunting isn’t just a hobby or a sport. For my family and me, it’s a passion and a lifestyle. Any day spent hunting is a good day.
This passion has led us into the backcountry to bugle bulls and spot high-country mule deer; to the flatlands of eastern Montana to harvest antelope; to the mountains to track lions; and to the woods to harvest bear. We pack in with horses to hunt in the backcountry, and there’s no place I’m happier than in a wall tent.
I enjoy getting close, spotting and stalking, and even long-range pursuits. Nothing compares to the thrill of the hunt. I’ve had the privilege of harvesting many large game animals with both my bow and rifle. These include two black bears, two bull elk – one with my bow and one with a rifle – antelope at ranges up to 800 yards with a long-range rifle, and multiple whitetail and mule deer.
However, my successes have come, at times, with trials and tribulations. Like when I drew my mountain lion tag.
Montana offers an array of big game hunting opportunities for those few hunters lucky enough to draw a coveted moose, goat, sheep or lion tag. When I submitted my application for the 2011-12 season, I knew in my heart this would be my year. I was expecting my son in January, so timing for any one of these tags wasn’t ideal. True to my intuition, I drew a special tag – mountain lion.
It would be the most challenging to fill with a season starting in December and a due date in January. But despite my pregnancy, I was determined to harvest a mature mountain lion. Early in the season, snowfall was scant and tracking was difficult. I was able to hike to a few trees, but hadn’t found the lion I sought.
I delivered my son by cesarean section on Jan. 19, 2012 during a blizzard. The weather had finally decided to cooperate, but I had little hope of actually filling my tag after having surgery. I managed to recover more quickly than expected and two weeks after delivery, I was back in the woods.
On Feb. 5, we found a hot track. I was a bit nervous about this hunt so soon after surgery, knowing I might be trekking through waist-deep snow for miles. My hunt was successful, however, and I harvested a 130-pound mature mountain lion that day because I refused to give up.
That hunt showed me that I can persevere in any situation, be it rain, snow, temperature extremes or even recent surgery. I’m no fair-weather huntress. Nothing can keep me from pursuing my passion for the hunt.
Ashley Westphal is a wife, mother and nurse practitioner who graduated from Montana State University in 2010 and currently lives in Philipsburg. The Westphals log more than 100 days hunting each year. Ashley is 1 of 20 semifinalists from seven different countries for the sixth annual Extreme Huntress Contest. Find more information and vote for your pick at extremehuntress.com.