May 9, 2009: Montana, coined “Big Sky Country” for obvious reasons. I have never felt little my entire life—even when I was little—but I can honestly say this, walking alone in the mountains of Montana literally made me feel like a grain of sand on the shore of our largest coast. A miniscule little star beaconing in the dark blue sky among millions, make that trillions of others. One thing I do know is that it wouldn’t take but a second to make a wrong turn and be lost. I am proud to say I didn’t get lost in the Montana mountains and I learned to use two very useful tools: a Topographical map (Topo map) and a handheld GPS.
First, let me say that Topo maps of Montana look nothing like those of Alabama. No lie, but I guess those of you who paid attention in geography would have guessed that; I don’t think I was paying attention. You really had to know how to read the contour lines and match those to the mountains, as well as the creeks—which by the way are called “cricks” here. To further confuse things, most “cricks” were dry. However, after a day of riding the road system and getting my bearings on the Topo map, the isolated areas we chose for hunting were easier to follow on the map. Unfortunately there are no trails or routes on the actual map once you enter a bluff, berm, plateaus, or any vertical route to get to the top of a mountain. I learned to read the terrain to find the best route and to decide where the best turkey habitat would be.
Prior to our trip, Richard had spent several days studying Topo maps for the areas we were planning on hunting. He took it a step further by utilizing Google Earth (www.googleearth.com) to get a bird’s eye view of each isolated area. During our hunting and scouting we used both resources to aid in our navigation. Every evening upon our return to the hotel room we would access Google Earth and compare our Topo maps. This was an excellent way to familiarize ourselves with the vast amount of land we would be covering the next day.
The second tool that I learned to use is one that I already had experience with in my hobby of Geocaching (www.geocaching.com). However, on this trip I learned to use the GPS to track back to the truck, to mark waypoints—such as turkey signs, roosting areas, great hunting set up sights and areas that I did not want to trek through a second time. I have never ventured into using my GPS in the act of actually hunting game; only to measure green field planting areas, mark stands, and to measure the distance that I have traveled. Now that I have ventured into these added features I plan to use my GPS for the upcoming deer season to mark areas of interest such as bedding areas, staging areas, trails, natural food sources, deer sightings, stand placement, as well as green fields and vehicle restricted areas. I have found that using a GPS is a skill that if you don’t use for several months will take you a minute or two (or 20, as my husband would beg to differ) to get figured out again. Luckily, not only did I bring the manual, I always keep the Quick In-Field Guide in the case with it. Using the GPS for this trip not only saved us some walking, it helped give me confidence to venture on my own.
I learned a lot on this trip. I learned that it was worth the extra $135.00 to rent an SUV with 4-wheel drive capabilities to drive up to the tops of the mountains that were accessible by motor vehicle. I learned that it is extremely important to be prepared for changing weather; experiencing mildly hot temperatures, to chillingly cool temperatures, to light rain, to mild sleet ALL IN ONE DAY. I learned it is always a great idea to keep a small First Aid kit in your backpack or turkey vest. I learned it is a good idea to check to make sure your Walkie Talkies are charged before tossing them into your backpack. I learned that even if four different people who have hunted Montana season after season tell you that “there are more turkeys in those hills than you can shake a stick at”–that this is not always the gospel. And most importantly, I learned that you can’t order grits, cornbread, or sweet tea in Montana; honestly!! You would have a better chance at ordering Green Eggs and Ham.
© Nancy Jo Adams 2009