Hunting > Big Game

Walking With Elk Again

A disabled hunter, convinced he’ll never pursue his passion again, bumps into an old friend and fulfills a dream.

Reflections: Clear as a high-mountain lake in the early morn, they are of a lifetime of hunting and fishing. As an aging outdoor writer looking at my past, I reflect on some of the more poignant adventures. One is an article I once did about an outfitter in Colorado who took numerous handicapped hunters for successful elk and deer adventures. These were men, often veterans, who were not ambulatory, and for one great week each year they were catered to by an outfitter who cared enough to provide them with an opportunity to hunt.

I look at the time I spent with those handicapped hunters as one of the best weeks in my career—at least one of the most rewarding. Little did I know that today I would find my own reflection to be that of a physically challenged person. You see, illness has taken its toll on me in the last few years: a bout with cancer that rears its ugly head on a regular basis, a couple of strokes, diabetes and crippling neuropathy—now I am handicapped. I quit hunting with my wife and son because I couldn’t navigate the walking and climbing, let alone the dragging and care of game after a successful hunt.

I had to curtail my fishing to that from a boat where I could brace myself and steady my feet, as slippery rocks meant sure drowning if I were to attempt a stream on foot. Then my hands began to fail me so it became more and more difficult to handle a fly rod, let alone tie on a fly. The worst blow came when I found I could no longer type. Software allows me to speak into headphones and watch words miraculously appear on my monitor—a blessing—so I can still write, but only of the memories that cling to me. What a reflection I am—a once-healthy, vibrant man who traveled the world, wrote countless tributes to my escapades, fished and hunted in the best and worst of conditions—but now a reflection.

Then I ran into an old outfitter friend. (I should say he is not old, but we go way back.) In fact, more than 20 years ago I hunted with him near Helena, Mont. (where we both now live), and experienced probably the most amazing display of innate skill and mastery in the pursuit of elk. I dubbed my friend “The Man Who Walks With Elk” in a story I wrote for this magazine (August 1988). Bill Montanye is his name, and he truly does what the label implies—he walks, thinks and acts like an elk....

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