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Chasing Elk: A New Englander Goes Big-Game Hunting In The Rocky Mountains

Sep 16, 2021 02:54PM ● By Story and photos by Lisa Ballard
There are a few things you need to know about me and hunting. First, I did not grow up with guns. My family had only one, a BB pistol that my dad used to keep the neighborhood dogs away on trash day. Second, I started bird and duck hunting in Vermont and New Hampshire in my 20s because I loved tromping around outdoors, watching the dogs work, and eating what we harvested. The closest I ever came to big-game hunting was a venison dinner at a friend’s house. And third, I had never looked through a scope or pulled the trigger on a rifle. One uses a shotgun for birds. Then, my sweetheart, Jack invited me to go elk hunting in Montana. I said yes, of course. Though I had never harvested a deer in New England, elk hunting in the Rocky Mountains was one of those life-list experiences for avid whitetail hunters. What a memorable adventure I got myself into!

The Camp

Elk season in Montana always opens the third weekend in October. Jack’s family has set up a traditional elk camp every year for more than six decades in the Snowcrest Mountains in south-central Montana, west of Yellowstone National Park and south of the infamous ghost town, Virginia City.

“Traditional” for an elk camp in the northern Rockies means a small enclave of canvas wall tents that serves as a base camp. Our camp included a huge cook tent, a couple of medium-sized sleeping tents, and one small tent for just Jack and me. Several horses grazed behind these temporary but sturdy fabric cabins. Tack hung from the sides of the cook tent, which also served as the congregating spot for repairing gear, planning the next day’s strategy, and, each evening, rousing games of cribbage.

The camp was off the grid, but not without its creature comforts. A propane lantern hanging from the center beam cast a warm light around the cook tent. The other tents were lit by battery-powered lanterns. And we each had a headlamp.

To continue reading this story please see page 62 in The Woodstock Magazine Fall 2021 digital edition.

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