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Living and ranching in the rugged badlands of south-central Montana takes determination and grit dusted with a whole lot of hope, qualities exemplified in 86-year-old Decker-area resident Mary Jo Reavis.

So it's no surprise that on Nov. 1, after a lifetime of hunting, Reavis finally fulfilled one of her long-held dreams — she bagged her first bull elk.

“I've wanted one ever since they've had a bull elk season,” Reavis said.

This year, Reavis was lucky enough to draw one of the 175 either-sex tags offered in Hunting District 704. Last year, more than 1,500 people put in for the tag, meaning there was only an 11 percent chance of drawing a tag.

Dream hunt

Even before she started hunting this season, Reavis had decided she didn't want one of the bigger bulls she'd spotted, but she didn't want a young spike bull, either. Like Goldilocks finding just the right porridge, the 5x5 bull she shot on Nov. 1 was just right.

The bull didn't come without some work, though. Reavis is still willing to walk a bit in search of game.

“On Sunday I think I walked 2 inches off of my feet,” she joked.

Then around noon on Monday, while hiking along the Deer Creek divide, she found the five-point bull of her dreams. It was napping. Using her Savage Model 99 in .300 Savage, she shot the bull.

“That's the thrill of my life,” she said. “I saw some others, but I didn't want a big one. I'd have to have another room to put the antlers in. This one is just perfect.”

Persistence pays off

Reavis used to plead with her father, Enoch Westman, to take her along on his elk hunts near Dillon. But he turned her down, saying it wouldn't be proper for one woman to tag along with a tent full of men.

So she bided her time, as patient as the time-worn sandstone bluffs near her home. In 2001, at the age of 77, Reavis shot her first cow elk at the end of an airstrip near her home. It had been only two months since she'd had knee replacement surgery. Since then, she's shot two more cow elk.

She has the game meat ground into hamburger, since dental work has made it difficult for her to eat steak.

“That hamburger is great,” she said. “I have 10 percent beef tallow put in it.”

The bull will meet a similarly chilly fate, packaged neatly in Reavis' freezer.

Finally, the feisty hunter's dream hunt has been realized, a hope she'd almost given up on.

“This one is the thrill,” she said.

Trophy place

Her friend will mount the elk antlers European-style — the top portion of the bleached skull attached to the antlers, a lean style appropriate for the stark country Reavis calls home. She'll hang the antlers over the stairs that lead to her basement, which contains the other trophy antlers she's collected from years of hunting mule deer.

Despite the success and final realization of a long-held dream, Reavis is still itching to return to the field this hunting season.

“I want to get a whitetail deer,” she said. “I've never got a whitetail.”

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Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at or at 657-1387.