Mom and I were breathing hard. I could hear her slow, rhythmic breathing as she led me through the stunted pine trees and bear grass. We hadn't talked much as we hiked through the wide grass field and up onto the thin ridge; both of us were content to walk without words. For us, opening day was about silence. The hunt always required it, and we enjoyed that aspect of it. Mom shaded her eyes and gaze out at the approaching rain clouds.
"The way I see it, we can either take the high trail so we can hunt down, or we can take the low road and hunt up." She whispered.
We continued the climb. Reoccurring piles of shale seemed to appear every couple of feet up the mountainside. One wrong step and my tags would never be filled.
Patches of pearl everlasting with their white buds made a stark contrast to the brown mountainside. The tree line, which had a variation of green, yellow and orange was about 150 yards to the right of the trail we had taken. There wasn't much to grab if one of us were to take a spill.
My foot made the last step to the top as three shots fired in the distance. Someone was getting lucky on opening day.
Mom used her binoculars and glassed down the side of the mountain. She gave a nod, which in our silent hunting language means no animals. We started the descent down to a logging road for better travel.
I used the binoculars to scan the opposing hillside and saw two flashes of blaze orange on the ridgeline. I hoped with other hunters theyll drive the game my way.
The rain started softly drizzling. Any successful hunting was out of the question at that point. We cradled our guns from the rain and continued on.
The mountains that surrounded us sported a fiery hue from the recently turned larch. I made a 360 and could see Missoula and Frenchtown in the distance.
We could feel the cold settle into our skin as the sweat from the uphill climb turned icy on our backs. At about 6,800 feet with a 25-mile-per-hour wind anyone would feel the freeze.
We dropped down and got onto a logging road that took us around the side of the mountain just in time to meet up with my dad and sister.
My sister was all smiles even though I could tell from their body language they hadnt seen anything either. Shes 13 and that day was dressed nearly head-to-toe in blaze orange. She was carrying my dads .300 Winchester short-mag, a heavy gun for such a young girl, but she insisted. Its a gun thats seen its fair share of forest, prairie and mountains; it feels special in her hands. For her, this is the beginning of a silent tradition. Of walking through cold conditions hoping for that three seconds of glory it takes for the bullet to meet its target.
In the state of Montana, anybody under the age of 15 with a hunting license can shoot either sex deer and elk. My sister brought home a six-point buck last year and Im certain shell be just as lucky this season.
We unloaded our guns and were about ready to call it a day when the game warden drove up. He made small talk and surprisingly didnt ask for our licenses. With the traffic on opening day hed probably seen quite a few already and it was only noon.
The Nine Mile area on the Lolo National Forest known as Region two and is a very heavily hunted area. So its no surprise we headed home empty-handed.
My mom hopes this season she can bag a cow elk. After two decades of hunting and no luck taking down an elk would be significant and special. I know well be back, it was the first day for rifle season and we have until November 27th to fill our general tags.
A beautiful area with dozens of mountains, roads and a forest filled with Douglas fir, larch and white bark pine. If the forests werent filled with anxious hunters ready to kill, Im sure we wouldve seen more wildlife as well.
Our lack of success on the first wasn't as disappointing as one would think. In the end, it was a good day to be outside in Montana.