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The Lore of Hunting Camp

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Mules carry a load of gear into a backcountry hunting camp. PHOTO BY RYAN CASTLE


LIVINGSTON – In Montana, the term “hunting camp” piques the senses. In the minds of sportsmen and sportswomen, it conjures memories of those still moments at dawn, the smell of cool, crisp pine and lingering sage and the baptism delivered by an autumn sunrise; good food that warms from the inside and stories made and told. Whether cabin, bivy or tent, hunting camp is as much a place as it is an experience.

For months, hunters across the state have been gearing up, literally and metaphorically, for the beginning of the Montana hunting season, of which an integral part of prep is setting up camp.

Often beginning in the summer and stretching through the month of September, backcountry outfitters take strings of mules, or pack trains, into the mountains to U.S. Forest Service permitted areas, loaded up with gear. One string of mules, each carrying in the range of 120 pounds, might bring in the motherlode of wall tents, chairs, pot-belly stoves, bedding and cots. On another trip, the mules might bring in certified weed-free hay, and in the final days the stock carry in people, food and gear to a camp reminiscent of those of the old West.

Others are perhaps eager for the stealth and challenge of the September bow season or are prepared for the rugged mountain climbs requisite in the pursuit of bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Still others anxiously await the opening of the backcountry general rifle deer and elk season on Sept. 15 in select wilderness districts. In many cases, these hunters bring what they need on their backs, and they accept the knowledge that, if successful, they’ll be making several trips to haul out that bull, which has a field-dressed weight of approximately 400 pounds.

The hunting camp oft becomes a primal homestead for the hunter; a place to return to during a season, over the years, and throughout a lifetime—literally and in memory. It’s where laughs are exchanged around humble fare, a place of comfort and sleep, and the spot where the sun sets to the purest of starry skies.

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