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Horn Huntin'

by David Curran

Pat Stevens

Pat Stevens wears a .357 magnum strapped to his leg when he goes horn hunting.

Stevens, a handsome man in his late fifties, stands tall and rangy, His salt and pepper beard is neatly trimmed. His hair has been clipped short for the summer. For Twenty years Pat has been building on his woods savvy, living in an isolated cabin in the Garnet Range of western Montana. When it comes to horn hunting, whether, elk, deer, or moose, Pat Stevens is a professional, and this professional always wears a pistol.

"I was down to Kennedy Creek one day looking for moose horns. Found this one young moose antler and I had it in my hand. Didn't hear her come up behind me. I was looking over the ground closely, looking for the other horn, when all of a sudden I just sensed something I turn and this moose is up in the air on her hind legs. Her forelegs are churning in the air over me. Well, she come down and hit me over the eye, splitting my right eyebrow, knocking me to the ground, and sending the horn flying from my hands. Her eyes followed the antler , so I scooted out of the way and got this rock between me and her. Well, that old moose, she come forward and I think she'd gonna rush me, but instead she started stomping that moose horn. She's just pounding away with on that thing.

"Well, there was some bigger rocks behind me, and so I turned quick and jumped behind them. I could feel the ground thumping with that moose still pounding on that horn. I don't know what she saw in that thing, but she sure was mad at it. But I sure didn't want her coming comin' after me. A moose will rush you when there's young ones around, but I didn't see no young moose.

"I pulled my .357. Her head was still down and I shot over her head. I figured if she didn't take off with the next shot I'd shoot her in the head with my last three bullets. With that first shot she turned and started running. I fired another shot, to make sure she kept going down the road. I picked up the moose antler, it was a little banged up, and went back to my truck."

Not every hunt for horns is as eventful, or even successful, but the fruit of years of hunting adorn Pat's cabin. Though the work can be dangerous but there is money in horns. Elk antlers, for example, are like found treasure. Prices have gone up to $7 a pound. Powdered elk horn is considered a aphrodisiac in the Orient and demands are high. A good set of elk antlers can be worth more than $200, but Stevens hasn't sold any horns in years.

Instead, he makes his living as an artist, creating antler belt buckles, knives, and even custom orders like the sets of Elk horn pen and pencil holders, or hand-made elk horn walking canes. A former painter with the maintenance department at the University of Montana, Stevens has turned his talents to fine art done on polished antlers. Painstakingly drawn representations of bear, elk, deer and moose, cover the fine-polished surfaces of belt buckles or the handles of a walking cane.

Getting the antlers ready for such art work, is a time consuming process. First, however, Pat has to find the horns.

Elk loose their antlers in his area in April , moose and deer around January. Stevens has his secret places, he won't talk about. He checks his hot spots first and then moves on down to the cooler areas. The important thing is knowing where the animals are at the time they are ready to shed their antlers. "I was down to Yellowstone and saw a lot of cow elk down in the low areas. But the bulls, they were up high in snow three feet deep. You couldn't even walk in there to look for them."

Stevens takes note of the where the elk are. His hunt hunting depends on factors such as snow depth, forage, etc. "When I go looking I like to pick a ridge. It don't have to be open. I've find antlers under the trees as well as in the open. It just has to be good elk range." Stevens will spend an entire day scouring a ridge, working back and forth across it as if he were a surgeon stitching up a wound. He'll use binoculars to look over hillsides he passes. After many years, his keen eyes can pick out a sun bleached antler in the grass.

If a horn lays out in the sun it's color gets bleached out. If antlers are not found in the first year, rodents and other critters usually do a gnawing job on them. A really old antler will begin to get tiny cracks along the surface. And of course a horn may be damaged in a fight the animal had before losing it. It's hard enough to find horns, but finding a good one is even harder. Still, Stevens finds parts salvageable for his art work. Not every day of horn hunting yields results. "I always feel like I'm never going to find another one, and when I do it's a surprise." To find Horns Stevens spends as many days as his feet will let him hunting horns each year. In the old days he hunted every day.

Stevens has no power and no phone where he lives. He cuts antlers to size for knife handles, or belt buckles and polishes the horn on a grinder run by a generator. He even makes his own knife blades grinding metal bars into steak knives. He puts a binder on the surface and paints on his miniature wilderness scenes, then covers them with a protective clear coating.

Pat Stevens says horn hunting is contagious. Each time out finding a antler is like a surprise. A thrill. years ago he got started over by elk creek. He found one elk antler and soon found it's mate. He put the two on tree by an old mines scrap pile. Then he noticed another antler in the pile. Pretty soon he had the whole tree covered with the horns he found as he scouted around in an ever widening circle. He was he was hooked.

He enjoys the work. And the thrills.

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Pat Stevens

Pat Stevens P.O. Box 312, Milltown, MT 59851

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