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It occurs to me, on the eve of the end of rifle elk and deer season here in Montana, that I've spent more time with my hunting pack this fall than with my spouse.

I'm not especially proud of that fact, but for me, familiarity breeds accumulation, and as I unpack my tote, I uncover various strata of my season, including artifacts that I haven't seen in months, though I've been carrying them for weeks and miles.

The first layer is the most predictable. Here are two pair of gloves, an unopened pack of chemical hand warmers and three live rifle cartridges along with a whole Medusa-hair tangle of baling twine I picked up in a field and forgot to throw away.

Next, my licenses, an unused elk tag from Utah, a Wyoming hunting license and three whitetail doe tags for Region 6 here in northeast Montana. Also in the bundle, held together with black electrical tape and a broken rubber band, is my waterfowl stamp and my general Montana hunting license, splotched with bloody fingerprints like lace curtains at a crime scene.

In a side pocket are four knives, two of which have blades crusted with caked blood and dried elk hair. With them, a whitetail grunt tube that I last used in September's archery season somewhere in Missouri.

In another pocket is the point-and-shoot camera I thought I had lost in the Wasatch Range and one of a dozen rocks that I find rattling around in the bottom of my pack. This is my favorite, a constellation of seashells encrusted in limestone that I found at about 11,000 feet in Wyoming's Greys River country, about as far from a seashore as you can get.

In a little zippered pocket I find my wedding ring, which I removed back in September after I noticed how flashy it was and worried it might spook a close-in archery buck. I just slipped it back on my finger, relieved but a little peeved that my spouse never noticed its absence.

There is a litter of maps, a Forest Service map from Utah, several Montana Block Management Area maps and handwritten driving directions to a remote elk camp in the Ruby River Valley. And, tucked in a forgotten corner of the main pocket, my most cherished possession of the fall. It's a hand-drawn picture of me, rendered by my 6-year-old daughter. It shows me in the mountains, waving at the artist, above a scrawled crayon message: “I love you, Daddy.”

Hunting seasons come and go, but possessions like that are as priceless as they are timeless.

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Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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