Feb. 18—Michael Reavis treasures the backcountry of Northwest Montana to a degree few others do.
Reavis, who lives in Essex off U.S. 2, is surrounded by the backcountry of Glacier National Park and the Great Bear Wilderness.
When he isn't packing in food and supplies to wilderness areas on horses and mules during his summer work with the Forest Service, he's stalking the high country during the fall for trophy mule deer.
During winter, he may be found shooting a few games of pool, but mostly he's skiing the backcountry.
The 2008 Flathead High School graduate is clearly a man who prefers wild places, the adventure which awaits in them and the solitude it provides. He was even somewhat reticent to share his story with those outside his circle of friends.
Reavis grew up hunting and fishing with his dad, a Missouri native. His dad preferred stump sitting and waiting for white-tailed deer to come to him.
"There were a lot of cold hunts, waiting on something to show up," Reavis said.
But when he turned 18, Reavis turned his attention to pursuing mule deer in the high country with friends.
"It was a nice way to break up the monotony," he said.
Reavis had entertained combining his passions for hunting and skiing in the backcountry.
"I've done well, but not as much the last few years," he said. "On my last trip out of Schafer Meadows, coming through Whitcomb Pass, I thought of hunting on skis.
"They're both things I love to do, so why not?" Reavis said.
He enlisted Zach Rutt, a good friend and backcountry adventurer from Pennsylvania, to join him. Both men have volunteered with the Flathead Avalanche Center in working to further education and safety for those who recreate in the backcountry.
The first morning of the regular deer season on the final weekend of October, 10 inches of fresh snow blanketed Essex. The two tried their new method of what they call "skunting."
The season was generally uneventful, but just before Thanksgiving Reavis and Rutt decided to head back to their personal "honey hole."
They skied through the powder at about 7,000 feet and arrived at a long ridge line on south facing slopes. Their plan was to ski and glass the avalanche chutes.
"The skiing was great," Reavis said. "Zach was about 100 feet behind and above me. We glided away and Zach soon jumped a deer. There were other tracks and he decided to go after it.
"He put his skins on his skis and took off, but I just stayed put and scanned the area. I looked downhill and saw a doe bedded. I adjusted my position and she stood up."
Reavis watched the deer for about five minutes and then a big mulie buck stepped into his view.
"I pulled the trigger, he goes down and slides downhill about 500 feet," Reavis said. "Zach came over, we skied to the deer and it was dead. It was about 2 p.m., and we were still about 7 miles from the truck."
After snapping some photos of the occasion, they took off with the big buck, letting the terrain and gravity do much of the work as they dragged it through the snow.
Once the terrain began to level out, they quartered the deer and packed it out on their backs, arriving at their vehicle at dusk.
"I thought about it and what we had accomplished," Reavis said. "I got so tired of postholing in the deep snow, so it was a nice change."
Now, the two friends are trying to get other friends to try their method of hunting.
"Hunting this way means you must bring your avalanche gear and take the necessary precautions," he said. "Hunting in the chutes is the biggest danger, but if you are used to it and know what you are doing, it can be done."
Reavis said the 5x6 mulie wasn't the biggest buck he's shot, but it ranks in his top three.
"There are times when you ask yourself 'What are we doing here?' But when you have an experience like this it keeps you coming back for more."