Friday, August 06, 2004

Stalking the Big Horn

I work with some very interesting people; I suppose I could say that about every job I've ever had (except for the times when I worked alone, then I just pretend to be interesting to myself). Diana, one of my current co-workers, is no exception. Diana is a registered medical assistant in our office, working with our doctors and patients. She's fairly young, both in life and in her working career, but I've been impressed with her "no fear" attitude and the way she handles herself. I've been slowly getting to know her over the past 4 months but the story she told me today was a real head wagger (like how the 3 stooges used to do the yadidy, yadidy, yadidy, yadidy double take).

Diana is a Montana girl through and through. She drives an old pickup, hikes frequently ans she's been hunting since she was a little girl. She rarely eats any other kind of meat than game (deer, elk, moose, bear, etc.). She's been really excited recently because her name finally got drawn in the big horn sheep lottery. You see, out here in Montana tourism is the number one industry and behind the masses that visit Yellowstone and Glacier Parks, hunters and anglers are the next biggest group. As a matter of fact, one of the more successful types of business here is guiding. And hunting guides make their living by taking folks from "back east" and the likes out to get an elk, lion, bear or big horn sheep. The big horn sheep lottery is so intense that tags have gone for as much as $150,000.00 (a tag is what you need in order to hunt a big horn sheep..same goes for mountain lion, elk and deer and the tags are used to help manage the wildlife) and Diana and her father have been trying to get a sheep tag for over a decade. So Diana, who looks almost like she could be a Noxema girl with her fresh face, big blue eyes and blond, blond hair, has been beaming with excitement the past couple of days. I decided to see what the big horn sheep thing was all about.

I meandered over to her cube and asked her, "so where are you and Tory going camping THIS weekend"? (Tory is her boyfriend and they camp almost every weekend). "Oh, we're not camping this weekend...I've got to focus on my sheep", was her reply.
"Huh", said I.
DIANA: Well, I've got to find him don't I?
JOHN:What do you mean you've got to find him. Are you hunting now?
DIANA: No, silly. But there are only two upperclass rams available this year and there will be hundreds of guides and hunters looking for those two rams, so we're all out there tracking them now.
JOHN:Wait a minute, you mean you're really doing like a pre-hunt hunt for the thing you want to kill?
DIANA:Well, you probably wouldn't understand
JOHN:Try me
DIANAWell, you see it's like this. The Fish & Wildlife Department doesn't do a very good job of managing the herd and they have to manage the herd. So that is why there are only two upper class rams left. The other rams aren't mature enough to be prizes so everyone wants those two. My Dad has a plane and so he goes up and tracks the rams.
JOHN:So you'll be in a plane with your Dad this weekend tracking a ram?
DIANA:Nooooooooo. I won't get in that plane. He spots them and then Tory and I track them. Last weekend we hiked about 8 miles back into the mountains to find them. We came across two bear too and that was pretty wild.
JOHN:BEAR????? Are you crazy? What'd you do?
DIANA:Well I had mace in both hands and Tory had his .22, not like that would have done anything to the bear. Tory wouldn't let me bring my .44 because he said we wouldn't need it...right Tory. Anyhow, he was ahead of me because he walks alot faster and he signaled me on the radio, "D, there's a bear up here" and I assumed it would be gone by the time I caught up because they usually just run away. But there she was, just sitting there staring at us.
JOHN:Wait a minute, how far away was this bear?
DIANA:Oh, about 50 yards. But then she false charged us and I said to Tory, this isn't right, why isn't she running away?
DIANA:I hate bears, they scare me...but I see them all the time.
JOHN:Was it a Grizzly?
DIANA:No, it was a brown black bear.
At this point I must have looked puzzled because she decided to educate me
DIANA:Not all black bears are actually black. Griz are very distinctive. They smell different too. Anyhow, she started circling us so we decided it was time to get out of there. Sure enough about 1/4 mile we ran into another bear, it was her cub. That's why the mom was so freaked and didn't run away.
JOHN:Does this kind of thing happen often?
DIANA:Sure, all the time. We are in the wilderness you know. Anyhow, we managed to find the ram and he is beautiful. I really want to get him but it will be tough. I want him on my wall.
JOHN:Well, I'm a Midwest boy and I'm not a hunter, so I guess I just don't get it. Not that I'm saying anything against it, I just wouldn't choose to kill that Ram.
DIANA:Like I said, I wouldn't expect you to understand. To each his own. I've been hunting all my life. it's much more natural and environmentally safe than eating cows.
JOHN:You got me on that one.

And that was that, she gave me that Suzie Chapstick meets Noxema girl smile and went back to scheduling a surgery. So this weekend, somewhere in the wilderness of Montana, Diana, her boyfriend and her father will be stalking the movements of the Rams in the herd so that when hunting season opens she'll know where to go to get a head start on those poor sorry bastards from back east who paid their guides 10K to get them close to a big horn sheep.

As I walked back to my office, somewhat amazed by the dialogue I just had, I realized she talked about seeing those bear the way somebody might about seeing a chihuahua! She had no fear, just annoyance. In this day and age, when our country is losing most if not all of its' regional flavor, Montanans are holding on tight to their differences. It's sort of refreshing in it's own way.

Visit the Montana Tourism page for links to find out about Montana and activities (yes, this includes hunting) you can do here.

For hunting information, visit The Montana Fish & Woldlife Departments homepage and for information on the big horn sheep, click here
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