In order to appreciate this story a person needs to be familiar with Stillwater and Yellowstone Counties here in Montana. In this story, I lived in Absarokee (derived from Absaroka; a Crow Indian name meaning “People of the Big Beaked Bird.”) Drive the only road three miles south and there’s the parking lot where the miners catch the buses to the Stillwater Mine in Nye. Head in the opposite direction, north and in 15 miles you come to the next town, Columbus. On this part of Highway 78, (the only road connecting all of these, 1-horse towns) there are several turns offs for fishing access or dirt roads leading to ranches out in the hills. Columbus sits right on Interstate I-90 where heading east for about 50 miles, takes you to the largest city in Montana, Billings. It’s a lot of driving. It’s a big state.
if i had to pick one thing that makes me smile about marriage i would have to say it is how much couples actually talk to each other when they’re claiming to be “giving each other the silent treatment.” i had only been married a short time but was still very excited about going out to do one of my favorite hobbies, hunting. my husband and i had been fighting all week about…. well it doesn’t really matter what subject started the fights, they all ended up being about money – or the lack thereof. i had planned this mule deer hunt all week and was very excited for my days off to finally arrive. everything was perfect: backpack was packed, rifle was clean and way too much ammunition packed. i had even scouted the ranch where i had permission to hunt and could set my watch by what time the deer entered his property. they didn’t linger very long, scrounging for grass and socializing before they all went and bedded down in the forest for the day. there were no bucks in this herd, they came along much later. but i wasn’t horn hunting. i wanted a big doe and i knew exactly what sausage packages i would order with her. i had everything planned out. all i had to do was… get a deer! (much easier said than done, for you non-hunters reading this).
that morning my husband’s tension had been building up. i found the silent treatment very easy to act out on my part because when he acted out his Abusive and Neanderthal behaviors, i just clammed up anyways. why bother? i could not hope to ever win an argument, say anything right or even compete with a champion insulter.
early on the morning of my planned hunt, i had just come in from loading all of my gear into our pickup. i pulled the car into the drive so my betrothed could head on out to his carpool’s parking lot. heading back into the house, i could hear the breakfast dishes already being tossed around. he made an overly (unnecessary) dramatic gesture of getting past me and rushing out the door. i paid him no heed until i heard the doors opening and slamming on the truck; my heart sank. to this day i always wonder what the neighbors must have thought when they watched Don have one of his temper tantrums? looking out the window, it was just getting light enough to make out all the ugliness going on (again) in our driveway. Don had taken every item i had packed in the truck and threw it across the yard. all of my gear, my clothing and coffee cup. just like he did every time i packed the car for a road trip, just like he did when we were on said road trips and just like he did when we were leaving for our wedding. the only item he carried in and layed down was the only item he had respect for; the firearm.
face to face combat now: “you do not have permission to use MY truck!” he screamed down at me. so much for the silent treatment. “i like how you think you can go hunting by yourself!! you’re going to stay here and clean this pigsty of a house!! you don’t just get to lay around like a fat pig all week and then do what you want on your weekend!! you didn’t even ask me if you could go out!!” i always stared at the clock during these temper tantrums. the bus schedule was strict and carpooling was mandatory at the mine. Don hated the thought of paying the hefty fine at the guard shack more than the thought of me going out and succeeding at something. right on schedule, he grabbed his bag of diggers and lunchbox and stormed out of the house. my body’s uncontrollable shaking didn’t start until he drove away in the truck.
to myself, the shaking was always a culmination of -upset at being in a fight, -humiliation at the hand of the man i share my life with, -seconds of realization that the man who knew me best was right, i was incapable of hunting alone, -stress over trying to figure out how can i hunt without a truck? -and more humiliation when i had to go out and pick up all of my belongings from all over the yard. just because you couldn’t see them didn’t mean that each and every neighbor wasn’t watching me from their curtained windows; calling their friends… now the heaviness would start to set in. what now? go back to bed? deal with bored dogs all day? stare at the TV in my pajamas and daydream about my hunt? all of that Again? i don’t know where it came from but something made me take a deep breath and stand straight up right when i walked into the house. not realizing it then, today i believe it to have been the Patron Saint Hubertus. the air i took in was clean and clear, just like being outside. my eyes flashed to the kitchen clock, i was only a few minutes late, if i drove a little faster on the highway…
in less than five minutes i had the dogs kenneled, my gear all loaded up into the car and even grabbed a diet coke for the road. i didn’t pause for even a second to come to my senses and talk myself out of things and i’m sure the only people more amazed than myself as i drove out the driveway in our 1993 Chrysler LeBaron were all of my spying neighbors!
Five miles before the highway lands in the town of Columbus, i turned off the Joe Hill Creek Road. this hunt i had planned very differently by parking on the “high side” of my friend’s ranch and stalking the deer just as they entered his property instead of walking the wet, “low side” of the ranch, trying to find them once they bedded in the forest. the road seemed a lot rougher and the ditches a lot deeper in the car than they did all of those trips in the 1/2 ton Dodge pickup but i just kept creeping up the hill. slowly, quietly, don’t want to disturb or even worse, deter them from the normal routine they had developed here. my plan had been to park right in front of the gate to old Bob’s ranch. then i’d gear up, lock and load and ease my way down the hillside, into the trees where i would take position as the herd approached. i had even practiced some up hill target shooting.
however, due to the morning’s events, i inched the car around the dirt corner to see the herd casually crossing the road onto Bob’s ranch. i froze. again, the shaking, the images of failure flashing in my head. i looked at my watch, the deer were exactly on time. it was i who was late. when i looked back up at all of the does and fawns, most of them were staring back at me! some hurried on across the road, a few in the back turned and jumped back onto the ranch they just came from. but all of the rest stopped and were all just staring at me. i must’ve looked a fool in full camo out here in a Front Wheel Drive car. they acted as if they’d never seen such a sight! so, i took their lead, eased the car into neutral as rode the brake on back down around the corner. i parked the white car in the ditch and as quietly as i could, geared up and got my rifle ready. i mused at the fact that my most prized possession, this 7MM-08 was a wedding give from my betrothed.
as was normal, my mind was having a battle with the devil. it was working on convincing me that i had messed this whole hunt up. now i was going to have to do what i usually did, wander the ranch for hours on foot and hope to scare up something worth my tag. belly crawling under the barbed wire fence… of course i got stuck but that was always part of my planning, getting stuck in a fence! making sure i hadn’t lost anything and my rifle’s safety was on, i continued to belly crawl to the top of the hillside to see what, if any, deer were still out in the open. in my mind’s eye i was hunkered at the bottom of the hill in the forest looking up the hillside at all of those deer – getting to take my pick. reality was, i was belly-scooting, breathing in the cold air and dust from the ground and dried up grasses. finally i reach the hill’s edge.
as i peek over, unable to breathe from excitement, expecting to see nothing, i saw the entire herd! they were slowly working their way down the hills, filling their bellies before their morning naps. once my brain took in that this hunt could still happen, my body let the adrenalin flow! i was truly happy again! scooting back behind the cover of the hill, i readied my rifle. using my toes to scoot me millimeter-by-millimeter, i found a stable position and wrapped myself around my rifle. everything felt so natural. i did forget to get out my range finder and use it but my thinking was that if i could see the whites of the deer’s eyes, i was probably in good range and knew right where to aim.
all i wanted was meat and i put the crosshairs onto the fattest doe i could find. my brain wrestled with the equation of shooting Downhill; i couldn’t remember it. but give or take an inch, this was a sure shot. slow breath in, squeeze (don’t pull) the trigger. i’m told the sound is what scares the herd, they aren’t aware that ‘there is a hunter and we are being shot at,’ the sound breaks them into their flurry. i quickly re-chambered a round and just watched the herd dissipate. they really were beautiful, graceful creatures and they were so delicious! when i stood up the only movement was a small deer, a fawn. he had a non-lethal wound to the neck. instinct was telling him to get to the safety of the forest; my math told me that he’d bleed out before he reached the woods, several yards away. i didn’t want to have to drag a carcass up any more hill than i had to and besides, this is not how i was taught to hunt. i removed my sidearm, my back-up; a .22 pistol. i aimed right behind his ear and apologized to him as i squeezed the trigger.
as i looked down at the little guy i started to cry. not because i’m a girl but because the adrenaline of the day was catching up to me and i had only been awake for a few hours. how did i take such small deer? he was past having spots but much, much too young and small. it looked so much bigger in my scope! my husband was going to Kill me!! I leaned over, resting both hands on my knees and waited for the tears to subside. i have never even stalked such a small deer. straightening up, my mind resigned that there was nothing i could do. i had a lot to learn. i tagged my little guy and started hauling up to the hill to the ranch’s gate. i did occur to me that it probably was a good thing i harvested such a small guy, at least he would fit in my car’s trunk!
walking up the hill, something caught my eye. there was a hump a way’s over that i didn’t recognize. i’d been hunting this ranch just long enough that i was familiar with the landscape and i did not remember this geographical mark at all. i readjusted my pack, got a better hold of my fawn’s legs and turned sharply to the right, heading directly to whatever this was. several feet later, my jaw dropped allowing a loud, gush of air to enter my lungs! i grabbed my chest; this wasn’t a part of the earth. i dropped my bag, but kept my rifle strapped to my shoulder. i ran over and dropped to my knees! it was the big doe i had in my sights!
a quick inspection showed an exit wound. my bullet went right through her – she was dead before she hit the ground – and it must have punctured this fawn hidden behind her. now i was feeling tremendous fear. did i have a tag for both? i didn’t clear beyond my target; a huge, hunting no-no. i looked around trying not to panic. what else could my bullet have gone through? how was i going to handle two deer? curse my husband for taking the truck! i needed help. more fear: in the years i’ve been coming out here, there has never been any cell service. what on earth was i going to do? i found a tag and tagged my doe. then i flagged the spot and started hiking up the hill. my mind was scattered, i’d have to wait for an idea to force it’s way in. as i flipped open my phone, more air escaped my lungs in a yell for joy! i had full service! since the previous year of hunting out there, they had ladden the valley with cell towers! i dialed a number from memory.
“Hi Bob, this is Judith.”
“Well hello Judith, how is the hunt going?”
“Say, are you doing anything right now?”
in less than half an hour, with the help of my best friend, both deer were being dressed out. the old man and i had to use a wench to load the doe into the back of his pickup. “God DAMN that’s a fat deer Judith!”
“yeah. i’m really please with her, she’ll make some excellent sausage.” we both spent quite a bit of time scraping the fat out of the inside of the prized carcass.
“so he just took off in the truck hu? even though he knew you were going hunting?”
“he’s having one of his moods, Bob. obviously, it didn’t stop me from going out.” i was trying to move him off of the subject of our “marital dispute.” lots of couples had nasty fights but i was always too embarrassed to try to explain my betrothed’s bizarre behaviors. i was becoming the master of “subject modification.” due to his interest in my rifle’s ammunition’s power, i reenacted the hunt for my friend. usually at this point of the hunt, the adrenaline has mellowed out and i feel only slightly more hungry than exhausted. but i was still full of energy that was only growing inside of me as i realized – yet again – how much of a disaster this hunt could have turned out. it was very ammateur of me to not take into consideration what was behind this herd and the full travel of my bullet. nothing would have happened today but i had not once ever thought beyond the target in my sites. it was an enormous lesson for me, one i’ll never forget.
“Now,” the old man was ready to plan, “what are we going to do now?” (sigh). i still didn’t have any ideas mainly because i was still scared of “being in trouble.” my brain wouldn’t wrap around the reality of the situation, only of the brainwashing it was used to. i just forced myself to think logically. Don wouldn’t be home for hours, i could handle this. Since Bob was meeting a friend of his to go on their own hunt, it was agreed that Bob would take my car to his house in town, then he and his friend would take off for their, weekend hunt. “are you sure you have spare keys?” he asked, dangling my one, set of car keys in the air like a little bell.
“yes. i’m great. just lock them in the car at your house.” i was then to take his old Ford pickup to where my husband’s truck was parked at the carpool lot past Absarokee. i would use our truck to transport my day’s haul to the processor in Billings.
after bombing through the rough roads out in the hills, my bladder needed a pit stop. to the doggie’s dismay, i was only at the house long enough to use the restroom, clean up a little, empty all pockets of all unnecessaries, which seemed to me, was everything i was packing around! grabbed a diet coke for the commute and continued on south to the parking lot. maneuvering the two trucks, open-tailgate-to-open-tailgate proved to be quite a challenge for me and i’ve no doubt that a video of my antics are on You Tube or some, other, social media website out there somewhere! of course, not one person using the gas-n-grocery/casino stopped to offer help, assistance or even tell me what a dumbass i was. that’s what happens when they’re all hiding behind the curtains snickering at you!
finally, trucks lined up, i clambered in and dragged the bloody carcasses from one bed to the other. the Ford was an open bed but the Dodge had a topper on it. a dozen or so head bangs and my deer were in my truck. now i parked Bob’s truck at the lot, made sure i had his keys and headed north for the highway that would take me to Billings. some, ninety minutes plus later i was watching the guy at the processor’s hang my two prizes (well, one prize and one story) from the meat hook while i excitedly filled out my sausage order. having gone over the menu for weeks now, i knew exactly what i wanted!
collecting my claim checks, i was giddy. that made the immediate drive home go by faster, i had a lot to do still. i stopped at the local car wash in my home town (being as how it was .50 cents cheaper than the one in Columbus) and washed out the bed and added a little of the used fuel. then continued on south to the Nye turnoff and traded parking spots with the bloody Ford. on our way back to it’s home, i stopped at said car wash again and put a little more fuel in it than what was loaned to me. then the old girl and i bombed back up north to it’s home. i parked in front of my friend’s house.
he was a (very rare) passenger on a weekend hunt with his best friend. they weren’t due back until sunday evening, sooner if they had fantastic luck. i had to hand it to the old boy, i wouldn’t want to sit in a tree stand in this cold for two, whole days! as i left the truck keys in our agreed location, i went digging for my car’s spare. i was starting to feel the morning’s exhaustion set in and it was only early afternoon. my heart didn’t just sink but fell out of my camouflage jacket and smashed onto the cement driveway when all i felt was cloth in my little pocket where i kept my vehicle keys during a hunt. my mind raced 1,000 miles an hour… before i had time to freak out over where i could have lost the thing, a picture popped into my mind’s eye: it was laying on my kitchen table. when i had emptied all of my pockets, i absent mindedly emptied ALL of my pockets!
exasperation took over my body. well, nothing to do but get back into my friend’s old Ford and head back down the highway, back home again. it was a long, long, windy, 30 mile commute. the image of Bob shaking my keys at me, “…are you sure you have your spare?” well, i DID at the time!
home again. this time, the dogs wouldn’t be ignored. i let them out of their kennels to run. they were insane with jealousy, smelling the blood all over me, knowing i had loaded a gun and left without them! i played for as long as i could tolerate the downtime but i was getting really scared, if i didn’t have this day wrapped up by the time Don got home, his wrath would be unimaginable. dogs pouting back in their kennels, spare car key in my hand, i headed north again. now muscles were starting to ache, previously unknown cuts and punctures were making themselves known to me, not to mention, i was feeling famished! finally i arrived in Columbus:
parked the damn Ford.
got into the damn Chrysler.
drove the fuck back to Absarokee!
finally, i was home for the day. i dealt with the dogs, enjoyed the world’s best hot shower, (i think it should be a requirement for everyone to have to do something outdoors long enough to appreciate how wonderful hot showers are)! as i cleared out the last of my day’s mess, i finally looked at the clock. oh my God!! when did it get so late?! Don would be home very soon! i looked around the house, i had planned on getting some deep cleaning done before i realized i was going to spend more time driving today than breathing! quickly, i opened the freezer and pulled out a couple of the many, already-cooked-ready-to-heat-up meals i had packaged and labeled.
as fast as i could work, i put on water to boil the pasta. setting the table, my sweaty hands kept dropping the dishes. if i didn’t get a hold of myself, all hell was going to break loose. i set Don’s place how he likes it and put my two claim checks with the salt and pepper, where he would see them almost immediately upon starting to eat. the sound of the kitchen clock ticking away the seconds was like someone grinding my brain with a cheese grater! i was going to go insane if i didn’t get his supper warmed by his arrival. quickly, i fed the dogs so they would calm a bit and put the news on the tv. at least i couldn’t hear the clock ticking. everything was coming to a nice boil as that demonic sounding, red, Dodge pickup pulled into the driveway.
at last. i could relax. he didn’t die at work today and i had supper waiting for him. everything else was just going to be a “normal” night of our on-going “silent treatment.” he entered the house in his normal fashion, crashing, banging, throwing his things around, the dogs making as much racket as he. after he gave them their cookies, he stepped into the kitchen to inspect the checkbook from it’s drawer in the desk. “well i see you didn’t spend any of my money while i was working, i’m amazed.” Don dropped the checkbook back in it’s home and slammed the desk drawer shut. he then walked through the house. if he were in one of his “high’s,” he would be whistling and admiring all of his belongings, telling me how nice something I hung up or decorated looked. he would be chatting with the dogs, commenting on whatever he was going to eat smelled like heaven. instead, he spoke normally for being in one of his “low moods.” “well, you obviously didn’t do any housework at all today, that doesn’t shock me. so i’m guessing you sat on your ass all day today while i kill myself at work. you just don’t get what marriage is all about do you? sure wish i knew that a lot sooner.” yes, of course his words stung but by this point in our, short, short marriage, i was so used to them. if i hadn’t had days like today’s hunt, i might even believe every, other word he said to me. but right now i was tired. i was keeping my end of the “silent treatment” – my thoughts being that i would only acknowledge my husband when/if he (ever) said anything respectful or even intelligent to me.
“spaghetti is ready to eat. the meatballs are antelope.” i walked over, feeling like my sweat suit i was wearing was made of armour. …oh, but if only…. i usually waited until after supper for a cocktail but my stomach hadn’t settled down enough yet for me to want to eat. i took the loaf of french bread out of the oven and went over to the desk where i kept my liquor. it didn’t really go with tonight’s “carefully prepared” meal but i wanted a Seven & 7 and i wanted it strong! the first drink i poured i just stood there and drank it all. focusing only on how good the expensive gin went down my throat, esophagus and landed in my belly. i loved how a drink so cold could feel so warm entering my body. i loved how it instantly relaxed me. only the sound of Don throwing his dishes onto the counter made me wake up from this relaxed state and look over. he had already cleared his first plate of my delectable homemade spaghetti and now was using his fork to smash all of the meatballs sizzling in the frying pan.
“the meat gets cooked WITH the spaghetti! i only like it IN the sauce! christ, you can’t do anything right!” then the whole pan of meat got dumped into the vat of sauce. this was an absurd statement and it showed on my face. this oversized, spoiled rotten, mentally ill man and i have known each other since we were kids. the meat in spaghetti has ALWAYS been in the form of meatballs and you don’t put them in the sauce too soon as to avoid them getting too soggy. i shook my head in disgust and while i wondered if i was ever going to speak to the man of who’s bed i shared, i poured myself another drink and sat at the table.
there already wasn’t a lot of the meal left but i was quickly losing my appetite anyways. aside from that incessant kitchen clock ticking, the only sound made was the ice clinking in my glass for two, more drinks. then, Don saw the two claim checks from my deer. my heart skipped a beat, now maybe this would cheer him up when he sees that i shot two deer with one shot and that he didn’t have to do Anything! they were already at the processors waiting to fill our freezer! alas, once again, my heart sank at the sound of his voice. “what the fuck is this?” is all that he said, staring at the little, pieces of paper. “i said, what are these?!” his raised tone sounded genuinely ignorant. i knew he knew what our processors claim checks looked like.
“deer.” is all i would say.
now his anger seemed to spike. “you went hunting?! today?! when i specifically told you not to?! you had better not have used my truck! i didn’t give you permission to use my truck!! what the FUCK are these!??! TWO?!? are you telling me that after killing myself all day at work,” (louder) “after telling you to stay home and clean this pigsty,” (louder) “now i suppose i have to go and clean and gut two deer!!!?”
i waited for the last of resonance of his voice to clear the air. i listened to the dogs all take their usual hiding places when their dad loses his temper like this. i waited for the ice to stop clinking in my glass after setting it down. we had a staring contest going on, Don and i, there wasn’t time to debate in my head if i was going to keep up with this “silent treatment” or not. i was going to have to answer him. he was being ridiculous; he knew what claim checks were, he wanted a fight.
after i took a deep breath, i spoke very slowly, “all right, are we speaking to each other now because THIS IS A REALLY, LONG, FUCKING STORY!!”