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Montana's Luxury Winter Lodge

Two of the many horses on the property.

Photo: Andrea Fazzari

Day 4: Let Me See Your Game Face

The weather doesn’t know what it wants to be today: snow, fog, drizzle, teasing bursts of sunshine. We put on hip waders and head down to the Blackfoot River. We learn the terminology: casting upstream; strike indicator; nymph fishing; Georgia Brown Stone fly. We learn to keep our elbows close to our bodies, to “pretend there’s a Bible there” and then not to drop it. We catch nothing. But standing on a rock surrounded by the snowbanked river, feeling its rhythms, the strength of the wind, the sting of ice against your fingers, the little crabs of pain running up and down your casting arms, there’s a quiet beauty to the endless repetition. There is the hope that something will come your way, will bite, but in the end you come to accept that you are just a biped in rubber waders standing in the middle of endless creation as snow falls dispassionately all around you and the fish go their own way.

We eat a rejuvenating lunch of tender buffalo burgers and salt-and-vinegar fries, and then it’s time to shoot some sporting clays. A local named Heath Roy—Stetson; craggy mountain features; easy manner—takes us to the proving grounds and introduces us to our very first guns. Never having held a firearm before, I’m starting to feel like Elmer Fudd on a bad day. But we are set at ease by a family from Alabama, a middle-aged internist and his two sons, one a freshly minted Birmingham physics teacher, the other a red-haired little spark plug. The doctor proudly tells us that he gave his youngest his first gun when he turned five, to which I can only reply, “Oh.” I pick up the weapon and Roy gives me some last-minute advice: “Pretend there’s a pair of knees hangin’ off that skeet. Shoot the knees.” The recoil punches a pale yellow bruise into my chest, but I hit the target and the clay explodes like a minor firecracker. E. does “real good” too, while the young physics teacher barely misses a clay.

Soon, Roy is referring to me by the first syllable of my name—“Let me see your game face, Gar!”—and his patient advice on following through helps me hit a low-flying, ground-skimming rabbit. By the end of our appointed hour, I just want to shoot everything in sight. Slowly but indubitably, Paws Up is making a man out of me.

On the ride back to the resort, the doctor ruffles the thick red mane of his youngest. “I appreciate your good manners, boy,” he says. As a newly minted sharpshooter I smile and nod my head, wondering why my New York daddy never says things like that.

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