Treasure State Tradition: Filling the Freezer with Wild Game
Walk into any bar, lodge, barn, home, or office in Montana, and you're likely to find at least one animal or antler mount on the wall. For most Montana hunters, these are more than trophies or proof of bragging rights. At the heart of Montana's hunting heritage are the experiences people share and the western landscapes and wildlife that provide year after year.
The Treasure State sustains a long and evolving history of big game hunting—one that's rooted in cultural identity and social connections. One of the aspects of this hunting culture that hasn't changed over time is harvesting game to fill the freezer and feed the family. For that, there's no place like Montana, and for many hunters, it's their primary reason for harvesting game.
"As far as opportunity goes for residents, Montana is hard to beat," says big game hunter and outdoor photographer, Sam Averett. "Montana has a liberal season, allowing for five weeks of archery and five weeks of rifle. More importantly, there's an incredible amount of public land and opportunity that does not exist everywhere."
For Averett, hunting checks all the boxes. "We eat wild game almost exclusively at my house, and I feel fortunate to be able to say that," he says. "There's the food aspect of it, and there's also the work of finding the animal; it's the mix between the meat and the challenge that keeps me hooked."
Averett grew up in Baker City, a little ranch town in eastern Oregon. His first introduction to hunting was right out his front door, going out with his dad when he was as young as five years old. "We would hunt out behind the house which butted up to National Forest land," says Averett. "We were basically hunting elk off the back porch."
"More importantly, there's an incredible amount of public land and opportunity that does not exist everywhere."
As a young man, Averett was obsessed with hunting. "Even in high school, I knew I wanted to make a living in the hunting space, but I didn't know what that would look like at the time."
Averett attended college at the University of Idaho and then at Washington State University, studying journalism and later earning a degree in marketing focusing on photography. After graduating, he moved out to Montana for a few months to work as a photographer and fell in love with the state and the hunting opportunities it provided—he moved out to Montana permanently in 2018 to pursue hunting and outdoor photography.
While his photography career allows him to spend most of his time outdoors, Averett says there is still nothing like being on a hunt. "For me, photographing uses a different part of my brain," he says. "When I'm hunting for myself, I can be much more present, while the photography work I do is more structured and intentional. Hunting allows me to be completely present and focused in one place and one moment. Everything becomes simplified. If I'm cold, I have to find a way to get warm, and if I'm hungry or thirsty, I find something to eat and drink."ext goes here
Averett is not alone in his passion for harvesting wild game. According to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana hunters harvest on average over nine million pounds of antelope, deer, and elk meat annually. Though it's not the only motivation for hunters, many Montanans are hunting to stock the freezer with sustainable, lean, nutrient-dense meat.
"I think it's easy to lose sight of how good we have it here in Montana," says Averett. It's important to try to keep that front of mind. There's plenty of opportunity for everyone that wants to go and find it."