The Itch to Hunt in Western Montana

By BRUCE AUCHLY, for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks

For most of us the itch starts about this time of year.

The nights are cooler, the days slightly shorter, and the sun is a tad lower in the southern sky each day.

The itch.

The itch to be in the field, trying to bugle in an elk, following a dog along a coulee on a hunt for Hungarian partridge, scouting an antelope buck as he circles his harem of does.

The itch is as old as mankind. It dates back to our hunter-gatherer days when hunting meant survival and failure meant starvation. When prehistoric men and women lived in caves, drew pictures of their exploits on the walls, and spent nights around a fire retelling hunting tales.

Today we won’t starve coming home empty handed. And truth be told it’s probably cheaper to shop at the grocery store than depend on meat gathered hunting.

Rather, the itch to get out there is more about adventure. Remembering and reliving the times of our youth, charging up a hill after an elk or pheasant. Some of us still run up the hills. Others let the youngsters and puppies do the running, waiting to see what comes out on the backside of the mountain.

Scratching the itch serves a purpose best put by Theodore Roosevelt, writing to his wife about why he needed to go hunting:

“Sweetest little wife, I think all the time of my little laughing, teasing beauty…and I could almost cry I love you so. But I think the hunting will do me good.”

We may laugh at Roosevelt’s attempt to get out of the house, but our 26th President and cofounder of the Boone and Crockett Club was onto something. In simple terms he was trying to ease the itch; though it’s more complex than that.

There are lots of reasons people in today’s modern North American civilization hunt: meat, trophy, companionship. They all work and are all part of the itch that can only be scratched away from the home.

Everyone admires the meat hunter, the man or woman who ventures forth to bring sustenance to the dinner table. Still, pencil in the cost of ammunition, gasoline, rifle, winter clothing, a four-wheel drive truck, and game generally becomes more expensive than meat at the grocery store.

Trophy hunting often takes the biggest hit from critics. But if the antlers on the wall are meant to keep something beautiful from slipping away and being forgotten, well, that seems okay.

And companionship doesn’t just have to be around the campfire. Many of us hunt alone, yet practically no one refuses to talk about his, or her, hunt. Any retelling makes the armchair listener a companion on that trek into the back country.

So as the autumn unfolds, and the guns and bows are brought out of the closet, consider how to scratch the itch. And remember sometimes the most valuable prize brought home is the memory.



For more posts about hunting, fishing, and the great outdoors of Missoula and Western Montana, visit the Make it Missoula hunting archive or the Wild Open Spaces blog.