By: Taylor Reisbeck
I grew up roaming the mountains of Montana with my parents Kasey and Tabatha, and my brothers Tucker and Walker. From being packed on my parent’s backs to holding hands down the trails surrounded by tall pine trees and into open meadows, my parents were a big inspiration as to why I love hunting and being in the outdoors. Honestly, all I can think about is my next outing into the beautiful Montana mountains.
We as a family were always hunting, fishing and driving on the old rocky roads in the Big Sky Country. I can’t remember driving into the mountains unless it was to hike, fish, shoot gophers or to even try to get my brothers to sleep when they were young. My parents tell me that they would ask me, “What does an elk say?” and I would respond with an elk bugle, which was my first animal sound.
My dad would bugle all the time, whether it was from his bedroom, garage or yard (getting some of the neighbors to bugle or cow call back at us). Meanwhile I would grab my mom’s vacuum hose from inside the house and try to copy my dad. You know, practice makes perfect. My brothers have learned the skill of elk calling and have become great callers too. Tucker signed up for a bugling competition in Lincoln, Montana when he was about 11 years old, competing with other kids and adults. He was sort of a shy person, so to our surprise he actually did it. Tucker took second place and boy oh boy my dad was the proudest dad ever, you should have seen him glow.
The biggest inspiration is how my dad taught himself to hunt during his teen years. My dad’s father didn’t hunt very much because he worked all the time. He told us that he watched hunting videos and TV shows repeatedly to learn what he knows about hunting. He would go into the mountains and watch the elk and eventually would mimic the calls. He was able to learn how to shoot a bow, rifle and shotgun. I am grateful that my dad was able to spend the time in the mountains and find his “honey holes” so he could show us and teach us everything he learned.
My mom never bow hunted until she met my dad. My dad taught my mom, her dad, and a couple of my aunts and uncles about bow hunting. My mom grew up rifle hunting with her parents and grandparents. She hunted near her hometown of East Helena, Montana and we still gather with my mom’s family for the opening rifle season near where she grew up. During rifle season, my family including my parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close family friends hunt together a lot. My first day of rifle season didn’t go as I had planned. We ended up with a flat tire before dawn and missed seeing a large herd of elk right where we planned on setting up. But like my parents always say, “things happen for a reason,” and I do believe that. My parents also taught us that after we harvest an animal we need to thank God for the food he is giving us and to say a prayer for the animal that we harvest.
A couple of years after I was old enough to hunt, we were hunting together as a family and my dad pulled his gun up on a 4×4 mule deer buck. As he was gazing through his scope he noticed he couldn’t see very well out of his right eye. He didn’t shoot and we went on to finish out our afternoon hunt. A few days later my dad’s eye did not improve and was blurry and red, he was able to get into the eye doctor. The eye doctor told my dad that his eyes were bleeding in the back and he needed to see a specialist right away. He was diagnosed with diabetes retinopathy and had surgery on his eye because his retina detached but the doctor could not save the vision in his right eye. My dad has type 2 diabetes and it caused the vision problems and also led him to go into kidney failure. He was put on dialysis when I was a freshman in high school. My dad has always been a fighter and he showed us how strong he truly was when he endured all of his health problems. He was on dialysis for just over a year and was able to get a kidney transplant because of an amazing live donor who unselfishly donated her kidney to my dad. Our angel was 27-years-old at the time and was also from my hometown.
My father’s kidney donation is the best thing that ever happened to us and they are both still doing great. He received his new kidney in November 2011, which as you may know is rifle season for big game in Montana. This happened to be my little brother’s first year of hunting and my dad’s goal was to get him an elk before the transplant. No matter how sick, cold, weak and tired my dad felt he would go out every time possible to try to help him get an elk. My dad and his friend were able to help my brother get his first elk with only a couple of days to spare before the transplant and we are forever grateful for that. There was a time earlier that fall during bow season that I remember realizing just how sick my dad really was. After walking down a small embankment into a meadow he just sat there trying to catch his breath. When we were done bow hunting that afternoon we had to actually push him up the embankment to get him back to our truck. It was so hard to watch but no matter how terrible my dad felt if we wanted to get out and go do something in the mountains he would never say no. Since the transplant my dad is back to normal. He hikes and travels the hills with us just like before. We are so proud of him and how well he is doing.
I started hunting with my boyfriend Cory about three years ago. He is also from East Helena and was brought up hunting by his dad, the late Bruce Allen; mom, Dawn Allen; and sister, Lindsay Allen. Cory was raised hunting antelope, deer, elk, birds and sheds. Just like my family, Cory’s family depends on the meat the animals provide. After they harvest their animals they immediately go to their garage and process the meat themselves. They grind up all of the burger, cut butterfly steaks and roasts. They use the meat throughout the year until the next season’s harvest replenishes the stock.
Cory is a great hunting partner; he can climb any mountain like a mountain goat and overcome all dead fall because of his super long legs. We lived in Dillon, Montana last year while I attended my first year of college and he attended his sophomore year of college. Cory and I aren’t the typical couple that goes on a dinner date for things like an anniversary. Instead he asked me if I would like to try and get a bull elk. I said, “Heck Ya, Let’s Go!” We packed up the truck and headed out of town. We couldn’t decide what side of the hill to go up so we settled on the middle. We saw four branch antlered bulls in the middle of the park, they seemed to be playing around with each other and had no idea we were there. We snuck in on them trying to beat the day and got settled on a 6×6 bull but he was about 600 yards away, which exceeded our comfort zone for shooting. We snuck in even closer and ended up about 400 yards away from the bedded bulls. The only shot I could get was on a smaller 5×5 bull and I told Cory I wanted to take him. We set up, making sure everything was perfect for a shot on my first bull. I fired one shot with my brand new 7mm mag that my grandparents had just given to me. With my first bull down, I was absolutely ecstatic. My family came from East Helena and our good friend Curtis came to help us pack the meat out, which took us nearly five hours. Cory’s sister Lindsay, her boyfriend Conner, our good friend Tommy, Cory and myself all harvested branch antler bulls last rifle season while attending college. There was no way we could afford the meat from a store, being college students and trying to live on a tight income. We ground up our meat at Lindsay and Connors house, which took us all day to process the elk.
This is what makes hunters happy, being out there with the people you love and enjoy spending time with. Knowing you are doing your part in controlling the population of wild game, providing food for your family and friends, and making memories that last a lifetime. I hope people that read my story are inspired by it; I know I can’t wait to pass what I’ve learned onto our next generation.