Elk hunting was kind of a religion here in Montana. Cartoonist Stan Lyde's character Hipshot Percussion expresses those old Montana ways of thinking very well. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, most bosses expected that their men would disappear from work for a week or two during elk season in the fall. They didn't fight nature. In fact, some businesses pretty much shut down for that week or two.
Back in those days before Montana was discovered by Hollywood, writers, eastern anglers and the mess that arrived with them in the 1990s and the introduction of the nefarious 4-wheeler, most town fellows went up in the mountains as far as they could get in their pickups and jeeps, and walked in. Or if they were blessed by God to have been raised on their family ranch, they took their horses up. And within a week, they would come back down with a six point bull, or raghorn, or spike, or whatever their tag allowed them, and their spirits were renewed by the freedom of the hunt for another year, and the family's meat locker was replenished. That was why you went hunting. Although thought of highly, trophy racks were just a side benefit, not the main thing. The main thing was the freedom of the mountains and the meat.
I went to school with a kid who was one of the local toughs, by the name of Dave R. I heard he was sitting in a local bar in the 1980s. Some out of town guy came in, started bragging how cheap land was here, how dumb people were in business, how the local women were easy for out of town guys. Dave just sat there at the bar, drinking his beer. Then the out of towner started bragging about the bull elk he got. Quick as a flash, Dave was up, over at the guy, and the guy was bloody and on the floor before he knew what hit him. Dave stood over him and said, "You can say what you like about the rest of it, but you stay away from our elk!"
I myself never got an elk, though my dad and brothers did. Oh well, that's okay. I hate what elk hunting has become anyways, with all the lust for big racks, 4 wheelers skidding all over the backcountry, poaching the celebrity bulls, elk farming with selective breeding, and rich men coming from all over to spend tens of thousands of dollars on specialty hunts, and then buying up millions of dollars worth of ranch lands to play Norman nobleman and keep the local riffraff out of our former hunting grounds. It's become a dirty business.
I had a dream as a young man, many years ago. I was walking in the mountains in this dream, through doghair pine (pine that grows so thick together, it's thick as dog hair). Suddenly, two giant bull elk with antlers perhaps 9 feet spread across spoke to me and then from the brush appeared another, one I couldn't see quite as well. An even bigger bull elk, with immense antlers perhaps 12 feet or more across, emerged and spoke to me in grave tones. I cannot remember a lot of what was said now, but I knew the Great Bull Elk told me that every species of animal has a Chief or a Grandfather, with its sons and consorts. There was more, but I can't remember it now.
I wonder what the Bull Elk Grandfather thinks of what has happened here in the heart of the Elk Nation, to his children, the Elk People.