The text message from a friend asks the anticipated question “Did you draw any tags?”
Nervously checking the Montana FWP website, I click on the tab and see what I more or less knew I would: UNSUCCESSFUL.
Reading that did let the air out of my tires a bit, especially considering their choice of words: unsuccessful. Synonymous with failed, botched or bungled. Moose, Goat, Sheep – zero, zip, nada. I am going on 13 years of striking out on drawing one of the “Big Three”, and oddly this year it didn’t disappoint me quite as much as it has in prior years. I think it has to do with two things: one, life has become exponentially busier for me with more priorities to juggle and balance at home and the pressures growing at work. My head-space for something as involved as a big hunt for a premier species is just not there. More important things are taking up the real estate needed to properly plan and execute.
Not to say that I have lost the spark for hunting; far from it. I now comfortably know that my focus will be on tags for elk, deer and antelope, all of which provide more adventure, excitement and frustration than one could ever need during a season.
Knowing that a ‘dream tag’ and the low odds of getting one are transferred to next year is fine with me. I have several months in front of me to focus, train, shoot and scour maps for hidden canyons and creeks, then head out and put boot leather on those same contour lines and three-dimensional topography, and see what they hold in real life. The satisfaction of planning will still be the same. The confidence will be there from nearly 30 years of seasons behind me chasing big game across Montana, knowing I will be tested and challenged as much as the year before, maybe more. The camaraderie from hunting partners will be a welcome reprieve. And I know my ‘challenges’ in life will not seem quite as intimidating when I return from the wilderness, where I readily trade running water and the luxury of a good bed and deliciously prepared meal for bugles at sunset, wind in the pines and living and hunting with only what I carry in my pack.
I also return to the real world eager to push through the front door and see my four year old son, his eyes widening as I rush towards him, scoop him up and hug him. I am happy beyond words, regardless of if I have punched a tag or not, as I hear him yell “DAD!”