As a young boy growing up in Texas, there was a consistent fall theme for me – getting out to hunt big game. My wife and I are healthcare professionals, and in 1992, Teresa asked where I wanted to seek medical travel jobs together. Montana was at the top of my list. Fast forward 30 years and we still call Montana home and have raised three daughters in the rural traditions of this state.
Life has a unique way of connecting people, and through the years, I have had the opportunity to meet and network with so many in Montana who share my passion for the outdoors and specifically hunting. One connection early on, which came about from looking at houses in town with exterior paint colors we liked, was with Hugh and Michelle Jones. Over the past 30+ years, the Teagle and Jones families have shared special times and experiences in the field. We have been Huntin’ Fool members for close to 20 years and were featured in a story published back in 2006 when Hugh and I happened to draw Montana bighorn sheep tags the same year. I actually managed to draw a cow moose tag that same season.
Early on, we made it a point to expose our young families to outdoor experiences of many flavors, including hunting. As adults now, those kiddos have their own special level of engagement with different hunting experiences, and all appreciate and cherish the outdoors. As Huntin’ Fool members, Hugh and I started early making hunting plans, filing applications, and building points for ourselves and kiddos. This has included opportunities in Montana consistently and also other western states. As points have accumulated, there have been numerous special hunts for moose, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, elk, turkey, pheasants, and deer.
As adults with points accumulated, it seems like every year now someone in our family groups has good news when the draw results roll out. 2022 was no exception. My daughter, Cortney, continued her hunting good fortune and drew a late season bull elk tag in Arizona. While she has harvested many great animals, including mountain goat, cow moose, trophy mule deer, and several cow elk, 2022 would afford her that first bull elk. With that experience, I can put behind my guilt for having her pass on a small 6-point bull in Wyoming on a hunt when she was 17. In addition, my youngest, Maddie, drew a nice limited draw tag and I had the opportunity to pursue a bull elk in the Montana Missouri Breaks area. The opportunities did not roll her way this year, but she has the passion and looks forward to future special hunts.
Maddie and her sister, Abbey, played a lot of soccer in the fall through high school and soccer, and that limited time in the field and limited time to pursue some tag opportunities they have had. Those of you who have hunted moose know how time extensive that can be, and Abbey happened to draw her bull moose tag while playing college soccer in San Diego. She could only make a couple of short trips back to pursue that one, and we got close on a big bull, but he gave us the slip. Abbey has moved on to Idaho now, and she will have the opportunity for one of those lifetime resident tags there.
The Jones family managed to pull some tags for 2022 also. Over the years, we have had some great hunts in a winter range area that lends itself to having horses to assist. That said, we have gone in on foot to this area and found elk within a few miles of the trailhead, but normally it requires a six to eight-mile trip in. Hugh and I regularly reminisce about a trip on foot to this area with young teen versions of Cortney and Ethan in zero-degree weather, which resulted in all four of us harvesting cow elk. What a pack trip in the snow that was the next day!
This year, Hugh was able to make a hunt into this area with two of his girls. Eli had drawn the special bull tag, and Molly never misses a chance to go along. Despite the best of planning, Hugh had two arrangements to lease and borrow horses fall through at the 11th hour and they would be going on foot. They were not so lucky as to find the elk only a couple of miles back. After hiking six miles in, they found the elk, but they were out of reach, being an additional three miles away. There was no disappointment in the trip as they described it. Just a great bunch of hiking and a great time. That place has yielded some great hunts over the years. With the assist of horses, we have harvested several decent bulls when those tags have been drawn and also reminisce about a week of hunting that yielded eight elk for friends and family going in with us. Hugh did cash in some Wyoming points and finished the years with a nice bull there.
Hugh and I try to hunt together whenever possible, but as we either individually draw tags or have our family members do so, we often have to pursue those opportunities separately. As mentioned, that occurred back in 2005 when we each drew bighorn sheep tags in separate units. The next year, I planned to accompany Hugh for his mountain goat hunt, but with changing weather and accumulating snow, he had to move up the dates for that hunt and go solo to get his goat. It seemed like we had missed numerous special hunts together over the years, but in 2019 we did get to share another good one.
Having not hunted in 2018 due to a variety of other family pursuits and having lost my bird dog, Maggie, I was so excited to have drawn a bull elk tag in 2019 for one of the best units in the state. I hunted the first week of the season with my brother, Ken, and nephew, Parker, and while we saw 20 bulls that week, we did not find a bull representative of that unit. That season started with unseasonably arctic weather, and mid- season was warm and made access during that period challenging due to mud. Coming down to the weekend before Thanksgiving, Hugh let me know he would be able to make a two-day hunt with me to see if we could find a good bull.
We headed over on Friday after having the chance to be with my daughter, Maddie, the day before and share the experience of her harvesting her first elk. The weather that Saturday morning was cold and blustery with variable visibility. After an hour or so of glassing from a high vantage point, we spotted a bachelor bull grazing in a high park a couple of miles away. We eventually lost him in a patch of trees and brush and surmised he likely bedded. As the day went on, we were able to get an angle where we could see the tops of his antlers above the brush and planned a route to close the mile distance. From his position on the hillside and the wind direction, a route going up and around and approaching from above was thought to be the ticket.
As we made the last trek behind the mountain, a bit of a snow squall came through and between the drifts, gusts, and sideways snow. It reminded me of watching scenes from Everest. Fortunately, that was relatively short lived and as we made our best assessment of where to come over the ridge to look, the weather had improved. We had guessed that the bull would be 300 or so yards downslope. As we slipped over and down to get a vantage point, there was the bull in its bedding spot hidden from below but quite visible and only 140 yards away. Hugh and I were together as the .300 Win Mag rumbled and closed the deal. The bull was an old warrior with great mass, healing scars from the recent rut, and a broken tip or two. It was definitely the best bull of the 21 I had seen that season.
Looking back, what cherished time it has been to hunt with family and friends over the years, and we thank the team at Huntin’ Fool for all the information and encouragement from others’ experiences. Looking forward, we still have a lot of points out there and those unexpected draws that come our way to look forward to.
Special thanks to my wife, Teresa, and Hugh’s wife, Michelle, for supporting our love for hunting and being great supportive mothers to our next generation of kiddos who love the outdoors.