by Alyssa Cornell-Chavez

At the beginning of 2018 I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Montana Natural History Center’s Master Naturalist Program. I received my certification in May, and in September I began my second hunting season.

I am a hunter and a naturalist.

At first, being both felt like two separate parts of my identity. I figured that I would just be a hunter when I was hunting or training to hunt, and I would be a naturalist any other time I was outdoors and/or working in my nature journal. As this hunting season comes to a close, I have come to realize that these two identities overlap more often than not. Hunters are naturalists in their own way, and my time hunting and spending time with hunters has helped enhance my abilities as a naturalist. Each of these identities supplements the other. I am becoming a better hunter because I decided to get my naturalist certification, and I become a better naturalist every day that I go out hunting.  

The Master Naturalist Program helped me learn to pay more attention the moment I step out my front door. Without even realizing it, every time I went out hunting I started noticing more and more about the world around me. When you are hunting, you have to be incredibly quiet. When being that quiet, nature comes to life, and I was finally paying attention to it. 

What I did not know was that my partner, Josh, who has been hunting almost his entire life, was already paying attention and appreciating that world.

At the beginning of November, my father, Josh, and I hiked up a mountain trail as the sun beat down on us. Almost all signs of snow had melted away. We paused to try and silently catch our breath when a small white head popped up over a log barely 20 feet from us. Past teaching experiences told me it was an ermine, or short-tailed weasel. I was very excited because it was my first time seeing one. This weasel had already turned white to camouflage itself for winter, which presented a problem thanks to the very warm November days and the lack of snow. The weasel stared us down for a few moments before it darted away, sticking close to the shadows and the rare patches of snow it could find. I knew from the moment that little head popped up over that log that I wanted to record this occurrence. When I go out specifically to journal I can simply take a seat outside and journal. While hunting you can’t exactly take an hour to record an animal sighting, so I had to pay close attention to all of the details and consciously remember them for later. This experience showed me nature having to adapt on the fly and also provided me an opportunity to combine being a naturalist and a hunter.

pencil drawing of a short-tailed weasel by Alyssa Cornell-Chavez

Every time we go out hunting I see something I never thought I would get the chance to see.  We have seen a badger bound away after unknowingly coming across its den. After trudging through deep snow, we have watched ravens devour carrion up close and a nuthatch descend upon the feast while the ravens fought amongst themselves. I have seen countless raptors not give us a second glance as they scan the sagebrush landscapes for prey.

Such experiences are not new to Josh. Over the years, Josh has seen all sorts of incredible wildlife scenes unfold, and uses those experiences to better understand the ecosystems around him. This understanding helps make him a better hunter, but it also fosters an unending appreciation for the natural world. He tells me his stories and passes down his knowledge and adoration for the outdoors just like his step-father did for him. Josh does not have a naturalist background, yet he exhibits many naturalist attributes and skills while he is hunting. Hunter and naturalist do not have to be mutually exclusive identities. Nature is beautiful, messy, mysterious, fascinating, and just flat-out incredible, and as a hunter and a naturalist, I know now that those two pieces of my life work together so I can fully appreciate it.