By Bruce Auchly
FWP Region 4 Information Officer
This is a story of getting lost while hunting. This is a story of how easy it is to get turned around in the dark.
This is my story.
The cold and snow that hit the high country during the middle of the first week of Montana’s big game general season promised the movement of elk. Typically elk move to winter ranges at lower altitudes when the temperatures dip and the snow piles up.
The first storm of the hunting season was not severe; temperatures where I hunt in the Little Belt Mountains were only about 10-15 degrees at dawn and the snow depth about five inches. Often it takes a foot or two of snow and temperatures well below zero to move elk.
Still that brief storm would cause a few elk to move, and maybe more would follow.
But more importantly, the change in weather brings out hunters, which also help to push elk around.
Not ideal but not a bad start to the season.
Weather that morning at two-hours before sun up was lousy: fog and light snow. The moon had set. Visibility was nil.
I had nothing to worry about. I was walking a two-track I had tread dozens of times. And look, someone had driven here the day before. Just turn on the headlamp and follow the tire tracks.
About 200 yards up the trail, I did not see the regular two-track, which veered slightly to the right. It was snowed in.
The tire tracks I followed veered left.
About an hour into the hike, my memory started to tell me that something wasn’t correct. I didn’t remember the two-track being so level in places, it was more rolling. But I was following the tire tracks using my headlamp.
I also looked for but didn’t see the old stock tank. I kept telling myself it was foggy, and I was following the tire tracks using my headlamp.
Then, an hour and half into the walk on a long, downhill pitch that also seemed out of place, an abandoned homestead loomed from the predawn dim.
There are no abandoned homesteads where I hunt.
Where the heck was I? And how in the world did I get here?
Fortunately it would be dawn soon, and the tumble down house was open with a stable attached, meaning I could get out of the weather, sit down and collect my thoughts.
After a few seconds of head scratching, wondering how and where I took a wrong turn, I realized I could just follow the two-track out.
Nearly every hunter I know has been briefly lost or confused; has at least once looked around, scratched his head and said: Huh?
Even the intrepid Daniel Boone is credited with saying: "I can't say I was ever lost, but I was once bewildered for about 3 days."
I was bewildered for just a minute, but the experience left me with a new appreciation for listening when the mind says: Something's not right.
That and the ability to laugh at myself at mid-morning after I got back to my truck.