Thomas Plank

Thomas Plank poses for a photograph in his hunting gear. 

Since I took hunter's education last year, I've spent a lot of time looking at very expensive pieces of equipment that seemed to have a purpose, but not an immediately discernible one.

Understanding how that guitar-pick is really a cow call or why a DDPAT style of camouflage is worse or better than a Rorshach's test of another pattern is something that will come with time. What I did learn over the past year could fill a book, and I haven't even been close enough to take a shot yet.

Normally I find that lists are a crutch in writing. But to sketch something as vast as the hunting experience in the American West, a list can work wonders. 

1. An alarm clock set for 5 a.m. sounds much different than any other alarm clock. In fact, it's scientifically proven to be much louder.

2. No matter how much slipping, sliding, climbing or general boot leather destruction occurs, it is impossible to feel tired when an animal shows up in the binoculars and the wind is right.

3. In the early morning under the Big Sky, the moon looks completely different than it did the night before. 

4. Knowing a deer is some place and actually seeing a deer in that place are two very different things. 

5. "Hiking" is not "hiking while hunting."

6. Ever cracked a branch in the forest or stepped on a really crisp leaf in the fall and thought, "Wow, that sound reminds me of fall?" Well, if you do the same when you're hunting, the first thought is "#$%@#!"

7. Bad weather = good hunting. Good weather = bad hunting. Generally speaking, a nice mild winter with late snowfall is a nice respite from Montana's normal early start to the cold months! I've never been so disappointed in the lack of snow and freezing cold than I have been in the past year. 

8. Whitetails are ninjas.

9. Mule deer will always stop and look back to see if you're still chasing them. Whitetails will show the white flag and then run into the next county.

10. Just because there are a lot of tracks does not mean you will see any of the living creatures that made those tracks.

11. Wind checking dust is a must have.

12. Never come over a ridge breathing hard. You might have to take a shot as you crest it.

13. I need to spend more time in the Montana outdoors.

14. Carrying a rifle for six hours without a sling is a very, very bad idea. I spent the next two days wondering if the outside of my forearm was ever going to un-knot itself. 

15. The sky can look like sandstone during a Montana sunrise.

16. A rutting deer is not a very smart deer. 

17. A chest pack for binoculars is a wise investment. (THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP.)

18. Elk are enormous.

19. Like, holy cow, they are so big.

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20. It's like a horse!

21. An antelope is not an antelope, but is rather closer to a goat.

22. Antelope jerky is good.

23. High Country Jerky Mix is the best flavor.

24. Don't tell anyone where you've been hunting. More importantly, don't ask where anyone else has been hunting. Just say you were up near Great Falls, or around Billings, or south of the Canadian border but north of the Wyoming border. 

25. Like onions, hunters have layers.

26. Drinking coffee in a warm truck cabin before going into the cold is the most calming experience imaginable.

27. Don't touch the electric fence.

28. Hopping any kind of fence is a studied meditation on balance and avoiding a face plant.

29. Seriously, don't touch the electric fence.

30. There is nothing as beautiful as Montana when the sun slowly rises and reveals the wonders of this impossible state.

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