Sam Cook column: Hunting trip made memorable by Great Plains hospitalityWe met her in a convenience store where we had stopped to pick up some ice. The three of us were in new territory in northeastern Montana, hunting sharp-tailed grouse.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
We met her in a convenience store where we had stopped to pick up some ice. The three of us were in new territory in northeastern Montana, hunting sharp-tailed grouse.
One of us noticed the woman and asked if she knew anyplace where we could pitch our tents and find some water.
“There are a couple of RV parks in town,” she said. “But they’re filled up with oil people.”
The Bakken shale formation, centered in North Dakota, has spilled over into this part of Montana. Already, we had seen plenty of oil activity.
“Or, you could stay at our farm,” the woman said. “We’ve got plenty of room for tents. And we have a hose.”
She gave us directions to the farm.
“It’s a white house with brown barns,” she said.
The woman’s offer seemed completely sincere. Her name was Shele, she said. As it turned out, she was the manager of the convenience store and gas station. We introduced ourselves. She told us just to stop by the farm, check it out.
We tried not to appear too eager, but we told her we just might come by. That would be fine, she said. Her husband, David, might be there. Big, tall guy, she said.
We asked her how she knew our staying there would be OK with David.
“He loves to hunt,” Shele said. “And he’s dragged a lot of people home before. I guess if he can, I can.”
By that night, we had three tents pitched in the lee of hay bales stacked in David and Shele Christoffersen’s hay yard. Our four Labs lounged in the grass, and we soon had burgers cooking on a tailgate. It was an ideal camp.
The chance meeting and Shele’s generous offer is one of those serendipitous events that often occurs when you’re in new country, feeling your way along. If you’re open to it, something as simple as engaging a stranger may lead to a highlight of your trip.
You wonder what made Shele extend her offer that morning. We must have seemed harmless enough, shambling around in our hunting clothes and boots. She apparently didn’t take us for serial killers. But, as much as anything, that’s just how people in small towns across the Great Plains are. Many hunters have developed long-standing relationships with farm families, and those relationships often germinated from a single conversation at a bar or restaurant.
Every morning at the Christoffersen farm, we would talk with David about planting winter wheat, baling hay, how dry the weather was or where to find sharptails. One evening, Shele and their 14-year-old son, Bailey, drove out to deliver fresh homemade cake to us at our home in the hay. In the mornings, we would wave to Bailey and 7-year-old Carolyne as they waited for the school bus. Shele said we were free to take showers in their home.
One morning, the Christoffersens’ friend Joe Stevens fired up the big John Deere and began unloading round bales of hay from a semi-trailer. He deposited 34 of them in two rows, three tiers high, forming a cozy corner for our camp.
“Figured I’d make you another wall,” Stevens said. “Give you more protection from the wind.”
We shot a few sharptails during our week in Montana and saw a lot of good country. But what we’ll likely remember best is the Christoffersens’ generosity of spirit and the smell of that hay.
Sam Cook is an outdoors writer and columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at “twitter.com/scookoutdoors.”