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The Birth of a Hunting Camp Tradition

October 22, 2010 | by Diane Tipton

After staffing check stations for most of the hunting season, FWP Region 1 biologists enjoy their vacation time at a hunting camp in northwest Montana.

Some hunters know exactly where they are going to spend at least a portion of their hunting season every year--they are committed to an annual hunting camp. After 10 or 20 years, these hunters have some amazing photographs and even more outstanding friendships and memories. Hearing them talk makes the rest of us wonder what it would be like and how such a special thing got started.

For a group of wildlife biologists in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Region 1 the notion of a late season camp to rattle in white-tailed bucks occurred spontaneously in 2000. Someone knew of a cabin in the Thompson Falls area for rent with nearby hunting access on a conservation easement.

"We spend the first eight or nine days of the hunting season and every weekend after that working the check stations," said Jim Williams, FWP Region 1 wildlife manager in Kalispell.

Taking a few vacation days to hunt once the mechanics of the hunting season are humming along sounded really appealing to these wildlife biologists. "Our hunting camp is our chance to hunt together, share stories, and reflect on the work we do," Williams said. The cabin they rent has separate accommodations for men and women so the opportunity to participate is equally available.

"We share the expense of the cabin and all our meals are pot luck," Williams said. "We carpool in and we can hunt from the cabin, or take a short drive for more hunting." "Rattling in white-tailed bucks involves a lot of random luck. Usually the deer win because we aren't the best hunters, but every year someone eventually gets a buck," Williams said.

Ron Aasheim, FWP Communication and Education bureau manager in Helena, said the elk hunting camp bug bit him many years ago after he and a college buddy came across an outfitter's hunting camp in the Gallatin mountains. "We'd hike by each day and see the smoke winding out the chimney of the tent, smell the horses nearby, the elk would be hanging to cool," he said. "When we came back by in the evening they'd offer us fresh cookies or hot chocolate." Aasheim said it was a revelation to see you could hunt and still be warm and comfortable, and not have to go home that night only to wake up at the crack of dawn to hike in all over again.

Like so many, Aasheim and his fraternity brother and fellow hunter, began their hunting camp tradition by sleeping in the back of a suburban. "One year our water bottles froze, and by then we had a little more discretionary cash. We decided if we were going to do this it was time to get more comfortable," Aasheim said. Today they sleep in a wall tent with a carpeted floor. The tent is heated by a wood stove, the food is good, and somewhere along the line they moved from sleeping on the ground to sleeping on cots.

Aasheim said it is hard to explain in words what sharing a hunting camp with family and friends means to him. "When we hunt together we are closer than any other time. We talk about things we never talk about otherwise," he said. "I can't explain why, it is just a special bond."