On the kickoff of what was arguably the nicest Indian summer weekend in recent memory, two camouflage-clad hunters were preparing to ride their mountain bikes deep into the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area for a couple days of hunting.
They loaded a trailer, a makeshift milk crate “trunk” and their backpacks with the necessary provisions for an overnight trip on the edge of Missoula’s favorite wilderness: headlamps, Buck knives, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, candy bars, bagels, a few sandwiches, emergency ponchos and two small bottles of whiskey (one scotch, one bourbon).
They were stowing the last of the gear and preparing to uncase their .30-06 Springfield rifles when an oversized tour bus pulled into the Rattlesnake trailhead parking lot. One of the hunters recognized the tour guide through the huge glass windshield: Missoula Mayor John Engen. Anticipating what was no doubt about to unfold, the hunters hurried to gather their gear and hit the trail.
But it was too late. As one hunter secured his rifle to his backpack and slung it over his shoulders, the bus rolled to a stop within feet of his rig. The doors folded open, and the hunters were suddenly surrounded by dozens of Baby Boomers…with cameras.
“How’s it going Mr. Mayor?” one of the hunters asked as Engen made his way over. “Uh…we would have tried to hit the trail sooner if we’d known you were coming.”
A few tourists laughed uneasily as their eyes darted to the guns, then to the hunters, then back to the guns.
But Engen saw the situation for what it was: a once-in-a-lifetime photo-op.
“Welcome to Montana! Where we’re all in the militia!” he boomed to the tourists, who were in town for UM’s parents weekend. Then he draped his substantial arm around one of the hunters and struck a pose as half a dozen people, like misplaced safari tourists, popped off shots of the mayor, arm in arm with a real-life hunter.