Read a powerful short story about hunting in the Lewistown Planning Area written by MWF member Eric Wendt from Billings, MT
The Missouri Breaks has a special place in my heart. This area, with miles and miles of breaks, coulees, cottonwood draws, sagebrush, and short-grass prairie was instrumental in forming my view of what hunting in Montana involves. The Breaks, which include thousands of acres of undeveloped, wild, and public land along the Missouri River corridor is under the Lewistown Resource Management Plan (RMP) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Lewistown RMP encompasses a stunning, intact river-to-prairie ecosystem that holds some of the best big game populations in the world. Big game needs big country, and this area has it.
I drew my first antlerless elk tag in this area when I was 14. My experience in the breaks includes gumbo, lots of greasy mud that can make for a long trip if you aren’t careful. On the drive in I had to hop out of the truck multiple times to turn in the hubs to engage the four-wheel drive, luckily for us, we made it to camp in one piece. On opening day we woke up at 5 am, even with the heater on in the camper I could see my breath. After a steaming bowl of oatmeal, my first of many elk hunts began. Years later the details blur together a bit, but it seemed like we hiked up more hills than down. We saw elk two coulees over and put the sneak on them. By the time we were in shooting position, the elk had disappeared in the topographic maze. I did not mind, the beautiful immense landscape with the big sky overhead were making the hike worth it.
Around 4 pm we decided to head back towards camp. We came across a stand of willows in a bottom where we could hear movement and bugling. My hunting mentor, Mike, positioned himself on a hill at the end of the willows and signaled for me to walk through the middle. I did not come from a hunting family so my hunting experience was extremely limited. This was the first time I was on my own. Being an avid reader, I had come across the term “buck fever” and told myself that this would not happen to me. Boy was I wrong. I was shaking like a lone leaf in a Big Timber wind storm. As I weaved in-between the willows I came upon a clearing. Forty yards away five cows and a bull were stock still staring at me. I fumbled my .270 into position, the world froze. And I squeezed the trigger. The world came rushing back in an instant. My cow stumbled but was looking like it could run forever. The next thing I knew I was viewing the world through my scope and it was slow again. The second shot rang true and as I looked up and there she was on the ground. I cannot describe the feeling adequately beyond it was intense and awe-inspiring and like I was in a daze. Through the haze I heard Mike shouting, asking if one was down. He showed up some point later and proceeded to show me how to dress her. We went back to the truck and grabbed our “game cart,” really an old rusted out wheelbarrow. It took us about four exhausting hours to get her back to the truck. I doubt I have ever slept so well.
I was able to draw the same tag in the following years and had similar luck. After that, I went to college out of state and was unable to make it home to hunt. Now, three unsuccessful elk seasons since graduation, I realize how spoiled I was in my youth with amazing places to elk hunt. I am grateful for my first few seasons hunting when I was able to fill my deer, elk, and antelope tags and gain confidence as a hunter. It is our duty to provide these same hunting opportunities to the next generation. I would not be the hunter I am today without the Missouri Breaks. The wild character of this landscape and our big healthy populations of big game is the reason why so many people choose to live, visit and hunt here. Elk, deer and other wildlife need wide open, quiet spaces, native range flora, and healthy watersheds. The BLM must prioritize those needs in their plan, to ensure that hunters, young and old, have the same quality habitat to chase game that I did.
The Lewistown RMP comment deadline has passed, but the final RMP and EIS will be coming out in the next few months. We are yet again going to need everyone’s help during the protest period that follows the release of the final plans. Stay tuned and be ready to get involved.