I guess the biggest thing I learned this year is that the most miserable hunts can also be the most memorable.

Also no matter how prepared you think you are, you’re not. And no matter how hard the hunt is and you think there is no possible way you can do it, you can.

Day one of elk season started with 30-plus mph winds and record-breaking snow piling up with no way to get to my spot so we spent the day checking out new areas that were a little easier to get to. I did get the opportunity on a big 5x5 but things didn’t go as planned.

This year's Montana elk hunting season included many miles and many hours of walking in below zero temperatures. Photo by Jamie Dietman
This year's Montana elk hunting season included many miles and many hours of walking in below zero temperatures. Photo by Jamie Dietman

On day two the wind stopped and the temps kept dropping all day but there wasn’t much that could stop me from getting to my favorite hill. It couldn’t stop me, but it could slow me down. What normally takes a little over an hour took me over five hours to hike into. Immediately I was greeted by a really big 6x6 and some cows but never gave a chance for a shot. Then over the next ridge I found a few different herds and I made the decision to try to get in front of a small group with some legal bulls in it. After getting through a valley with waist deep snow I could hear the cows calling and I got set up for a shot. The second elk over the hill was a pretty busted up 5x5, but he would be my busted up 5x5. And just like that, my season went just like the previous years and my tag was notched.

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Related: What's Up Outdoors: Risking ice, snow and wind for the elk hunt

Or so that’s what I thought, I never took into account how long it took to get there let alone how I was going to get 250 pounds off the mountain without the use of my game cart. And then I soon found out all the water bottles were frozen, so the decision was made to get the meat in the game bags and start getting down.

Related: What's Up Outdoors: A hunting tradition will continue after all

This was probably the sketchiest trip out of any I have ever had -- 17 degrees below zero, no water all day and even though I knew I shouldn’t I had to try to eat some snow so hypothermia wasn’t far off. No matter how hard you pushed you just could not get warm. I have never been so extremely happy to get to the truck, where a few unfrozen water bottles were a great sight. The next morning I was pretty happy that I could actually walk so it was back in to start packing the meat in.

Cold and snow were obstacles during this year's Montana elk hunt. Photo courtesy Jamie Dietman
Cold and snow were obstacles during this year's Montana elk hunt. Photo courtesy Jamie Dietman

I don’t know where it came from but I still had enough energy and strength to pull the sled loaded with all the quarters. I can’t explain how painful the next seven hours were but when I finally arrived at the truck all the pain was replaced with tears of joy. I guess this year it wasn’t about the meat or the antlers, it was really about testing your limits and I have to say I never thought my limit would be that high.

This year I feel I definitely earned the right to never be called a flatlander again.

JAMIE DIETMAN, What’s Up Outdoors, may be reached at 218-820-7757.