Montana has held a big part of my heart for the last 20 years. I moved there soon after graduating from college in the early 2000s. Life circumstances took me away, back to the Midwest. I have only returned to visit three times. Not nearly enough. The luck of the draw has finally smiled on me, and after 18 years of applying, I drew a coveted Montana moose tag. By the time you read this, I’ll be headed deep into the wilderness west of Glacier National Park on the greatest hunt of my life.
When hunting in much of the Midwest, one simply purchases a license to hunt whichever species they desire. This is referred to as purchasing a license “over the counter.” A reference to the old days of walking into a sports shop and purchasing a license from an authorized selling agent. Today, most licenses are purchased online, but still have no restrictions in the number of licenses available.
In the West, most hunting licenses are sold on a quota basis. Meaning, there are fewer licenses available than hunters who want to purchase them. This is especially true for licenses to hunt animals of which the population is small. Such as moose, mountain goats, big horn sheep, and elk in most areas. Acquiring one of these licenses through “the draw” is the equivalent of winning a lottery.
Each year, I purchase many of these “lottery tickets” in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and more. The money goes to conservation, so you really never lose. This year, I won my first big lottery when drew a moose hunting license in Montana. Which happens to be my number one dream tag. There is not a hunt on the planet I would choose over the one I am on now. While there is a slight chance I could draw this tag again in my lifetime, it is a very, very slight chance as a non-resident. So, I am approaching this hunt realistically as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Western states are broken down into units. My tag is not good for the entire state of Montana. On the contrary, it is for a small area or “unit” that borders Glacier National Park to the west. Since I was made aware of my luck of the draw, I desperately wanted to travel out to my unit so I could scout. Time and expense would not allow me this luxury, though. I have had to rely on the internet and the good will of others to virtually scout in preparation of this adventure.
A combination of digital OnX GPS Maps and a traditional paper folding map of my unit from My Topo have been my sources of information. OnX allows you to zoom into a small area on your computer or phone to see what the terrain looks like and to drop digital pins. It has other features like property borders and locations of animal species. It is a very valuable tool for desktop scouting. I still love a paper map, too. The My Topo map I have of my unit now looks like I gave my 3-year-old nephew a pack of highlighters and a pen. There are roads, ridges, saddles, campsites and more highlighted by blue, orange and pink lines, or ink circles. I like drawing my plans and making notes on paper and carrying it with my in the backcountry. The battery will never die in my paper map.
Equipment wise, I’m shooting a special rifle. I will be hunting with a Savage 300 WIN MAG suppressed with a Silencer Central Banish 30. There is a good story behind this rifle. When I was born in 1979, my great-grandparents gifted me U.S. Savings Bonds. They continued to do so for a couple of years. It took about 35 years of life for all of my bonds to mature. When they did, I wanted to purchase something special with the money so I could always remember how their money was spent. Almost 30 years after their deaths, my great-grandparents bought me the nicest rifle I own. For this hunt, I added a high-quality Vortex scope. I’m sure I’ll feel the presence of my great-grandparents and many other family members who have left this Earth while I’m in the wilderness.
This column will be followed up with at least a recap of the experience. If the hunt takes longer than I hope, then you may read a mid-hunt account, as well. I have to admit to being quite nervous about this experience. Not afraid, just nervous. I suspect this is how a football player would be feeling the days leading up to the Super Bowl. I’m beyond grateful for the chance to pursue such a magnificent creature across a vast landscape full of grizzly bears, wolves and other dangers. If you are so inclined, wish me luck. I’ll need it.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Before any hunt, big or small, sighting in your rifle is a key step and ethical must.