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Opening day his finally here

by Warren Illi
| October 20, 2022 12:00 AM

Opening day. Those words have an almost sacred meaning if you are one of the 100,000 or more Montana resident hunters and thousands of non-resident hunters that will be welcoming the opening of the general rifle season for deer and elk hunting in Montana. Opening day is this coming Saturday, Oct. 22, and lasts about five weeks for general deer and elk hunting, usually ending the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

On the Thursday and Friday before opening, the local mountains and prairie of Eastern Montana will experience the establishment of hundreds or perhaps thousands of hunting camps. Montana is blessed with over 30 million acres of public land open for camping and hunting. If you like to hunt the open country of Eastern Montana, which entails a longer drive, you may leave several days before the opening day to set up your camp and do a little pre-season scouting.

Hunting camps will range from simply sleeping in the back of your pickup truck to having the luxury of a 30 foot long camping trailer or a motor home with every convenience known to modern man. These modern camps include electricity, running water, hot water, flush toilets, showers, forced air heat, satellite TV and internet service. Remember that hunting is suppose to be fun, not an endurance event that tests your ability to endure discomfort. So, what is wrong with watching a Griz or Bobcat football game after a good morning of hunting or taking a hot shower after an exhausting day in the field?

This will be my 63th opening day for deer hunting. I’ve missed only three other opening days when fulfilling my military obligation. I can remember my first season of deer hunting when my father took me deer hunting for the first time. We stayed in a nice cabin in Northern Minnesota with all the comforts of home. That group of hunters included a number of friends my dad had hunted with for many years. I was the only kid. One of the most interesting aspects of that first hunt was the night before when my dad and his buddies told and retold hunting stories about past kills and various “stands” where they had shot deer. On that first opening day my dad took me to a spot in the woods and told me sit on a log until he came back to pick me up. He pointed out a nearby deer trail where deer would likely pass by. If a deer came by, I was to shoot it.

I had never been to that wooded area before and never shot the rifle he handed me. My dad was not much for patience or training. There was no such thing as hunter education, now required in every state before you can go hunting. At that time, in the 1950’s, deer season opened state-wide on the opening Saturday and any sex deer was legal to shoot. That country had a high density of deer and deer hunters. During the first hour or two of opening day, the deer woods sounded like a war zone with all the shooting. Later that morning my dad took me to another area where we killed a dandy whitetail buck.

During the intervening years, I have experienced waking up on opening day after having slept on the ground wrapped in a tarp, in a tent, in a tent trailer, in a cabin, in a motor home and an occasional hotel. This year I will be comfortably lodged in my farmhouse by Malta.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is getting up before dawn, eating a hearty breakfast and being in the woods or prairie by sunrise. It won’t matter it is cold, windy, rainy or blowing snow, come sunrise on opening day, we will be out hunting. In the old days, I usually packed a lunch and stayed out from dawn to dusk. But now that I am retired and much older, I usually come back to my farmhouse for a nice hot lunch and a snooze on the couch before heading out for the late afternoon hunt. Being retired I have lots more time to hunt leisurely. Deer and elk are usually most active at dawn and dusk, so if those critters are wise enough to take a mid-day break, why not me!

This opening day I plan to hunt my favorite coulee, known to our group of hunters as Warren coulee because I was the first member of our group to kill a nice buck in that coulee. That evening we will have a long cocktail hour when we discuss the places hunted, deer seen, other hunters seen and begin the planning for the next day. Usually, we will also have a deer or two to skin and clean up.

As much as I look forward to opening day, I really don’t want to shoot a deer that day, at least not a buck deer. In Montana, you can only shoot one buck a year, so I treasure my buck tag for use during the entire 15-20 days I will deer hunt this year. I never want to see my dream trophy whitetail or mule deer buck and not have a tag to kill it. Luckily, the area I hunt allows hunters to buy several doe tags. So, my plan is to leisurely hunt for bucks for the entire season, while taking a couple of does for good freezer meat. Some years I have not shoot a buck, but have passed on many smaller or average bucks while awaiting the monster buck of my dreams.



So, get geared up for opening day this Saturday. You will be doing what our ancestors have done for thousands of years, providing good wholesome natural meat for the dinner table. I hope you love this opening day tradition as much as I do.