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Tales from Afield: Learning together





Being a first-generation Montanan, I don’t know as much of Montana as those fifth-generation families with the homestead still on their property. However, I’m proud to be born and raised here and very lucky my grandparents decided to move here after just one visit to Yellowstone. 

Coming from South Dakota, my grandfather was primarily a bird hunter, walking down old country roads waiting for the familiar beating of a pheasant’s wings. So, when I wanted to go deer hunting at the ripe age of 12, he was excited but nervous given how little knowledge he had on the subject. He took the opportunity to learn with me and start a new chapter in his hunting career. 

My grandfather went with me to every hunter education class, taught me how to shoot and researched the most deer-rich hunting areas every night until he fell asleep, with his readers still on. Our first season was full of mistakes but we had a blast. He’d tell stories of his upbringing and how he learned to duck hunt with World War II veterans.

When the next season rolled around, we had a treat in store for us. My good friend’s dad, John, was a great hunter and had the wall mounts to show it. John had heard of how green my grandfather and I were and decided to take us under his wing and go on an antelope hunt in Forsyth. We jumped at the opportunity and sure enough, John, led us on a hunt I’ll never forget.

John knew where to be, when to be there, and what the antelope would do. He might as well have been part antelope himself.

We woke up before the sun on a clear, cold fall morning. The big Montana sky welcomed us into the wilderness, cocoa, as I had yet to discover the wonder of coffee, in-hand. A short truck ride later, John had us low crawl in a dried-up creek bed until we got to a bend. It seemed like forever for a 13-year-old kid, although thinking back now, it was probably a fifteen-minute process. 

Once there, John told me to peek over the edge and take my pick of antelope. Shaking with anticipation, I slowly stood up with my rifle at the ready. As promised, about 15 antelope grazed lazily about 50 yards away. Still shaking, I chose the buck separated from the herd, aimed, fired and ducked back down.

A little perplexed, John asked if I got it. I remember seeing a puff of hair through my scope but wasn’t sure my bullet had reached its target.

“I don’t know, I ducked too fast!” I replied. Laughing, John stood up and gave me a thumbs up. I had made a good shot. Grandpa was ecstatic, perhaps even more than me, if that was at all possible. 

It was a wonderful day. Grandpa and I couldn’t have imagined a better hunt and are forever grateful. 

Over the years, my grandfather’s health limited him in his hunting, as well as his first love, fly fishing. But, after every hunt I would still call and replay the day’s events for him. He’d laugh and give words of encouragement after I got “skunked” on a hunt. He was the father figure I needed as a young man and I learned so much from him.

My grandfather passed last year, but his lessons and stories remain a part of who I am today. I wear his wool fingerless gloves on a cool day and his stories play through my mind on every dirt road I drive. I am thankful every day that he took a risk, and moved to the last best place: Montana.

Cameron Franz was born in Bozeman, Montana, and likes hunting, fishing and making people laugh.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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