Remembering the story of the shoemaker who made shoes for everyone in the village except for his own children, I started taking my sons, Spencer who is now 19, and Brett who is now 17, mule deer hunting. I tried to teach them everything I knew about the sport. I'm a strong believer in using the quads (legs and feet) that God gave you - not the quads you buy at the ATV dealer. Don’t get me wrong. Often I do use ATVs to get to where I want to start hunting. Most of the time, I spot-and-stalk hunt, and I really prefer to hike rather than ride. I enjoy teaching my sons to track, read mule deer sign and look for places that mule deer are most likely to be.
One of my favorite memories was Brett’s first mule deer hunt when he was 12. We were hunting close to Melstone in central Montana near the Musselshell River. We hiked in about a mile in very cold weather - 17 degrees below zero. We had 3 inches of fresh snow that morning for a total of 8-9 inches of snow. The sun woke up to a crystal-clear blue sky, and frost was on all the trees and bushes.
We went about 2/3 way up a hill overlooking a valley and sat on a rocky outcrop with a couple of juniper trees. We found a sunny spot where the sun could help us stay warm. We sat there for about 1-1/2 hours. Since we only saw a coyote, we got up and went up to the crest of the hill. Just as we went over a saddle on the hill, we saw knee-high grass and a few juniper trees. I spotted a doe. I told Brett, “Stop! Don’t even move. I see a doe. If we move, I'm afraid she’ll spot us.” I got Brett to move in front of me. Every time the doe put her head down, I whispered to him, “See how that doe is looking back. A buck may be coming, or it may be another doe or possibly a fawn.” When the doe looked away from us, we moved over and got behind a tree. I had brought shooting sticks and set-up Brett’s rifle. Just then, a buck stepped out. I told him, “Remember to shoot right behind his shoulder where I've told you to shoot before. You’ve got a perfect shot, and the buck is only 100 yards away.” I could hear Brett breathing a little rapidly. Then I heard the gun report, and I saw the buck drop in his tracks. Brett was so excited he took the gloves off his hands and said, “Look, Dad. I'm so excited my hands are shaking.” When Brett had settled down, we walked up to the huge buck.
My brother-in-law Doug was hunting near us. He heard the shot and came over to see what Brett had shot. He looked at Brett and said, “I've never shot a buck that big.” Doug and I have been hunting partners for many years. After we went through all the celebration of Brett taking his deer, I had the opportunity to teach my son how to bone out a deer in the field, so we could get all the meat and leave the bones. This way, we could get the head and the meat all back to our vehicle in one trip.
I was leading the three of us going down the other side of the slope, and my foot went into a hole. We heard a pop, and I thought I had blown my knee out. Later, we learned that I had torn my meniscus. By the time we reached the truck, the temperature had warmed up to 17 degrees. When we got home, I showed Brett how to cut up the big chunks of meat into portion sizes, and he couldn’t wait to eat some of the tenderloin from the buck he just had taken.
After supper, we talked about the hunt, and Brett mentioned. “I really liked seeing those grouse.” We both had heard a sound that somewhat sounded like a cat meowing. Brett had asked me, “What’s that sound?” I told him, “That’s grouse. If we sit still, we may get to see them.” Sure enough, the grouse came out not far from us, and we watched them walk in the snow taking back and forth to us. Brett said, “I’ll never forget seeing those grouse.” I looked at him, smiled and said, “I’ll never forget it either.”
Day 2: How Marshall Johnson Got to Work at the Mule Deer Foundation
Tomorrow: Why Marshall Johnson Is So Involved with the Mule Deer Foundation