Saturday, December 8, 2012

Montana Adventure 2012: Man-Tana

This is my biological brother Shane.  Isn't that crazy?  I think we look nothing alike.   I also have three non-biological brothers (Ben, Jon and Michael) that I inherited a few years ago when my Mom got married.  Brothers, brothers, and more brothers.  And me. It might explain why I've always been a bit of a tomboy.

While we don't look alike, most people who know us both well say Shane and I are very similar.  Shane married a pretty awesome woman.  My Sis-in-Love Quenby happens to be a lot like Curt.  Gentle, loving, and kind, neither of them are easily provoked.  However...  if they reach their tipping point they can get a little fiery. Quenby and Curt "get" Shane and I.  We are blessed to have them in our lives.

Quenby grew up in Montana.  Her parents own forty acres of the coolest land outside of Helena.  It borders BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and is take-your-breath-away beautiful.  Huge boulders litter the land.  It looks like God was playing with a bunch of playground balls and just chucked them at the earth.  The Rocky Mountains peak out from every vantage point.  Abandoned mine shafts and outbuildings sit on the edge of the still visible stage coach trail that runs adjacent to their property.  Quenby grew up outdoors - hunting and riding horses in a land full of mystery, danger, and history.  And then she moved to the midwest.  Once you've lived in the mountains, they always draw you back.  It's no wonder she and Shane moved back to Montana shortly after they got married.
Grant playing under some of the rocks

Sun setting over the Rockies and the abandoned mine

Shane has always been a Man's Man.  Moving to Montana was an easy transition for him.  Fifteen years later, he's practically the poster child for Man-tana.  His day job is a fire fighter-paramedic-SWAT team hero.  He's also an expert hunter specializing in back country wilderness hunts.  For years he was the Back Country Editor for a major hunting magazine and every year he guides groups into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to hunt deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bear, and mountain lions.  His family room is lined with impressive mounts and framed photos of all his epic hunting adventures.  You will never catch him without a gun on his body, at least one in his pickup, and several in his house.  He makes sure his wife and three daughters (who all hunt with him) are well protected at all times.

But for all his bravado and manliness, my brother is tender-hearted.  A man of God, he leads his family with strength, courage and fiercely protective love.  You never have to guess how he's feeling because he's blunt, unedited, and very funny.  Compassionate to the core, he is moved by the pain of others and will put his life on the line to rescue and protect those he loves.

I knew Shane was Mr. Big Time Hunter but we have never been to Montana during hunting season before.  Seeing him in action was really eye-opening and fun.  I asked question after question.  Most were prefaced by, "Think of zero as no information at all on the subject.  Then back it up about ten digits into the negative deficit and you'll know where my knowledge base is."  He patiently answered all my questions - even the really dumb ones - and laughed at me for my ignorance of how his life works.

butchering Kayla's deer
We arrived in Great Falls an hour or so before dinner. Shane and Quenby live in the city limits and have a big backyard.  When I went to tell the boys it was time for dinner, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Shane had a roaring bonfire going in his fire pit.  The grill was fired up with fresh venison cooking on it.  My fifteen-year-old niece Kayla, Shane, and Curt were sitting assembly-line style at a folding table wearing headlamps and butchering a huge mound of fresh venison from the deer Kayla shot the day before.  They were using a blow torch to burn off the hair and Shane was coaching Curt on how to cut the meat.  His dogs were gnawing on the carcass of the deer and the head was hanging in a tree.  They were saving the head to make a European mount - something my brother knows how to do and has done many times.  What?!?

the raccoon and coyote
This City Girl was in shock and asked a LOT of questions.  "How exactly do you learn how to butcher a deer?  Or know to burn the hair off?  How do you make a European mount?  EWWW!!!  You boil the head and push the brains out with a coat hanger?  GROSS!  But interesting.  Will you be doing that while I'm here?  I may want to help."

Later that night Shane asked me to go out to his garage and get some bagels from the freezer.  When I opened the freezer, I jumped and laughed.  It was full of meat - all game my brother had hunted.  It also had a coyote and a raccoon.  The raccoon was holding the bagels.  Surprisingly I didn't scream, much to Shane and Curt's disappointment.  They were hiding on the back deck, in the dark, waiting in gleeful anticipation for my response.  Boys...  

The next morning, Shane woke Curt and Grant up at the crack of dawn.  He saved a deer tag to fill with them and was determined to show them a good time and help with Grant's Man Training. They drank coffee and ate man-food (venison sausage, eggs, and toast) and headed out to the Smith River.  Shane gave them the tour of all his favorite hunting places.  It was Grant's first time shadowing on a hunt and he was beyond excited.
Grant's first time out on a hunt
When they saw the buck they all got excited.  It wasn't big by Shane's standards but it was bigger than any buck Curt has ever shot and Shane was determined to "put some lead in something."  The buck didn't make it easy for them.  He took them on a wild chase that ended with a "Last of the Mohicans dash through the woods with branches slashing at our faces" before Shane finally shot the buck.  Curt "finished it off" with his hand gun - just in case it wasn't really dead.

My Boy and the buck
 Grant loved it all. The adventure.  The adrenaline.  The blood and guts.  There was nothing he didn't come home raving about.  Shane showed him how to gut out the deer and Grant was captivated by the process. Apparently he dissected the heart and lungs and "used the deer carcass to warm my hands when they got cold.  I just kept sticking them inside the deer to warm them up."  His favorite picture of the day is of his very bloody hands after they were done gutting out the deer.  The chase through the woods landed the deer in a place that was difficult to pack it out, so Shane opted to kick it off the cliff and then float it down the river to a more convenient exit strategy.

so proud of his "man hands"

Shane floating the deer down the river.
Shane finished Grant's Man Training with a polar plunge.  They both stripped down to their undies and dove into the icy river for a quick swim.  Never mind the fact that it was snowing earlier that morning or that it was the end of November.  Curt - fully dressed and of sane mind - documented their insanity from the shore.  Grant came home exhausted and THRILLED with his Man Day.  I think he may have even been smiling in his sleep.

they are certifiably crazy
at home - couldn't wipe the smile off his face

safe and sound after a fun day
We spent Thanksgiving at the homestead where Quenby was raised.  Our big extended family took a leisurely hike through the crazy beauty, pausing often to take pictures and soak in the view.  We explored the abandoned mine and walked the stagecoach trail that a hundred years ago carried people up and over the mountains.  It was invigorating, rejuvenating and relaxing all at once.
Shane and Quenby, Kayla, Maggie, Sydney, Joe and Sharon (Quenby's parents)

our family: Jodi, Curt, Alli, Grant, Katie and Paige
Shane finished off our Man-tana adventure by taking Curt duck hunting on Friday morning.  They came home with nothing to show for their efforts except memories made and bullets wasted.  From their huge smiles and non-stop chatter, I doubt either of them were too disappointed with the outing.

They were so satisfied with themselves that they gave Quenby and I the afternoon off.  We worked out together.  Then went to coffee and talked.   Shopped.  Talked.  Shopped some more.  Talked.  We even kept up our tradition of buying hats together.  I don't remember how this tradition started but we seem to do it every time we're together.  We loved it!
my Sis-in-Love Quenby and me
Saying goodbye is never easy.  Especially after a visit as fun as ours.  Shane gave Grant explicit instructions:  "Take a Hunters Safety course.  Get a gun.  Learn to use it.  Practice shooting so you can actually hit a target.  Then come back out here next year.  I'll take you on your first hunt and I guarantee I'll get you a buck.  Oh and get a job so you can earn at least half the amount of an out-of-state hunting tag."  Watch out neighbors. Grant is on a mission to earn that money.  I think he'll be wanting to wash your cars soon.

Thank you Shane and Quenby for an incredible time.  We love you.


  1. Wow, Jodi, what a trip for Grant! DEFINITELY certifiably crazy, ha! Love that you had such a great life-giving time. Congrats to Grant on seeing the blood and guts of a deer - that's a privilege not many of us get to have :). - Faith

    1. Grant's already waiting expectantly for hunting season next year and scheming how he can come up with the money. An out of state deer tag for a kid is $500!

  2. Hey Jodi, I dont know if you know or remember me or not. I am Quenby's cousin/brother. I spent many summers in Montana at Joe, Sharon and Quenby's. You are 100% correct. They live in an amazing place. The beauty of the Rocky Mountains is breath taking. We spent countless hours on horseback exploring the entire area where Quenby grew up. The memories that were made and the friendships that grew will never be forgotten. You are very lucky to have gotten the chance to be part of an amazing family. Some of the best times of my life happened in Montana.

    Jerry Madsen

    1. Thanks for writing Jerry. It was fun to hear from you. I agree. I'm so blessed to have Quenby as my sister-in-love. She is a gift!