Road Trips and Animal Tails

MaryLou Bohenek
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We often go on weekend drives looking at beautiful landscapes and hoping to be lucky enough to see wildlife.  You see, I am a wildlife and landscape photographer.


In Montana, we are blessed to have such beauty and awe all around us, it’s difficult not to take photos.  Living in Missoula we had our favorite “spots.”  The National Bison Range is one of them.  The wildlife is protected there.  Bison, antelope, deer and elk are free to roam.  I have photographed these animals.  Many times, we didn’t see much but the ride is a beautiful one.  Coming from Long Island, NY, I can tell you that I was awestruck by the Mission Mountain Range.  It still humbles me every time I drive along Highway 93.


I have a thing for Moose but that’s another story. We have deer right in Missoula.  They’d visit, eat your plants and go on their merry way leaving their “business cards” behind…pellets of poop.  It was amazing to watch them.  Being so used to the deer in town, I wasn’t too interested in taking photos.  I’m sorry I missed seeing my husband come face-to-face with a buck in our front yard.  They scared each other and the buck took off and knocked down a piece of decorative fence. I started putting silk flowers in the flower pots so they wouldn’t eat the real ones.  Every morning, I’d look out and see the silk flowers all over the ground.  I guess they didn’t like them. I was amused but I don’t think they were.  Every year my daughter plants flowers all over her yard.  The deer love her “buffet” every year.  She’s not too amused.  They even walk in the middle of the street blocking her way when she comes home from work.  Well, enough about the deer in Missoula.


Meanwhile, back to the Bison Range.  I have been close to the bison and have taken many pictures of them.  They are a sight to behold!  Antelopes have “posed” for me and the deer and smaller critters, too.  And then…elk.  Beautiful, majestic and a sight to behold.  They were always just a little bit too far to get great shots.  Thanks to my tenacity, tripod and camera lenses, I’ve been fortunate to take many great pictures. Every year we would go in the Fall and Spring.  It was amazing to see the difference in their raggedy hide in Spring compared to the thick and beautiful coats that covered them in late Summer and Fall.  I always have my camera ready.  We came across fields where the cows (female elk) were grazing and all grouped as if they were having a ladies’ tea party.


Hum…no bucks.  As we traveled further down the road we came across “the boys.”


They were hanging out and looking fine!  With all their splendor, they were gearing up for the rut.  That was a great day and I took so many photos. I felt so blessed to see all the elk.


After our luck in coming across the elk, we decided to take another weekend road trip.  It seems like they had their special spots, too.  The girls were still hanging out together in the same field.  We continued along the road and low and behold, there were some bull elks.  This time they were by a creek across from the road. There wasn’t a lot of them. In fact, I could only see one drinking water from the creek. My husband set up my tripod while I got my camera set.  The bull had a massive set of antlers and he had his head in the water. I went close to the opposite side of the creek and starting shooting.  He casually looked up at us and then went back to his feeding and drinking.  Boy, I was sure pleased to have the honor of seeing him so close.  To my surprise, down from a slight hillside towards the water there came another bull with huge antlers.  Not a minute later down came another bull also with a huge rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  There they were, three bulls standing in the creek.  While the first elk I saw still had his head in the water, the other two sized each other up.  As if, for my attention and pleasure, they began to spar with their massive antlers. It seemed like they were putting on a special show just for us.  I took so many photos.  Shortly, one elk returned to the grassy hillside and out of my sight and then another and another. 


I moved from Long Island, New York to Missoula, Montana in March 1979, to join the rest of my family. I can tell you, it was a culture shock and many times I regretted moving to Montana.  Again, another story but one I will include it in this story.  I must say that when they call it Big Sky Country, they mean it.  I couldn’t deny that I was indeed smitten with the big sky, scenery and…wildlife!  I am not a hunter and I only “shoot” with my camera.  I wasn’t impressed with the lack of stores and availability of things I took for granted.  Of course, all that has changed over the years. I was divorced and had a five-year-old daughter. This was a bonus.  Missoula is a great place to raise children.  My mom, daughter and I took a lot of road trips enjoying the landscaping and wildlife.  In New York, there are deer, black bears and some smaller critters.  


They were in Upstate New York and we had a cabin in the Catskills.   Both of my brothers hunted.  This is just a little information about me and maybe you will understand my enthusiasm about wildlife.


I get excited when I see ducks and geese flying above me.  As many times as I see them I still yell outload, “geese, ducks, deer” you name it.  It makes my heart beat a little faster.  The first time I saw Bald Eagles feeding on salmon by Glacier National Park, I became overwhelmed and cried. 


On another trip to the Bison Range in the Fall during rutting season, my husband and I pulled our vehicle to the side of the road because we saw elk.  Tripod and camera…got it!  Because we were on the side of the road other visitors began to stop.  I kind of wish they hadn’t.  I started making bugling sounds to get the elks’ attention.  Well I’ll be darned; my husband walked away like he didn’t know me.  The people were all watching me and the elk.  I got the elks’ attention though and I’m sure glad I did.  This was about THE most exciting thing I’ve ever seen and heard. One of the elk walked away from the herd, took a mighty stance, held his head up and bugled. For me, I witnessed something magical.  It is something I will never forget.  And, yes, I cried with such gratitude to God for blessing me with this experience.  I get to look back at all my photos and remember how much joy they brought to me when I took them.


In 2013, my husband’s employment took us to Idaho Falls, Idaho.  There were no deer and I was homesick.  My husband bought concrete deer for our front yard.  They are quite large and there is a buck, a deer and a fawn. My neighbors enjoyed them and so did I but it was not the same.  

We had to take trips to Jackson, Wyoming and Yellowstone to see wildlife. I loved those trips.  It’s so beautiful in the Winter. During one of our Summer trips, I had the opportunity to see my favorite wild animal…the mighty moose!  More photos and more memories. 


It was during our time in Idaho Falls that I realized just how much I loved Montana.  We moved back to Montana in April 2016, this time to Helena. Somewhere online I came across the following.  I do not know who the author is but it accurately describes how I feel:


“Montana: a state that gets so deep into your soul that it hurts when you’re away from it.”

I’m home.