Maria Lovely is a FORLOH ambassador and a hunter, a skier and a pilot in training. Based in Montana, she provides feedback to the FORLOH team on the apparel with particular focus on both technology and women’s fit.
My mother sits atop old Red, a seasoned mule, who has more miles on him than any human here. Strapped to her chest, I sit in a front pack. Merely three weeks old, I am not only on my first horseback ride, but my first hunting trip. We make our way up a rocky trail to Froze to Death Plateau, scouting for Bighorn sheep.
My parents come from a long line of hunters; from the homesteaders of Montana on my father’s side to huntsmen for a baron near Baden-Baden, Germany, on my mother’s. Beginning with my ancestors and passed down generation to generation, the skills and lessons from these avid hunters are ones I cherish. Hunting is not only a family tradition, but, with my dad running a home-based outfitting business, my lifestyle.
It is dark and cold. The charred and blackened trees creak in the wind. I’m eight years old and down on my knees with a flashlight in hand looking for the tiniest speck of blood. We search through the night tracking a bull a client hit slightly high. Reminding myself that hours ago I told dad I was strong and brave enough to come with and help, I fight off my fear of the dark and the tiredness that keeps trying to wash over me. Around 4 a.m., we find the elk dead in his bed; relief rushes through everyone. It did not take long for me to learn that these animals and this environment has a way of testing you like nothing else can. We make the trek back to the truck, where I lean my head against the window and am sound asleep before we even pull out of the trailhead.
The years I spent waiting for my turn — to turn 12, the legal age to carry a gun and tags in Montana at the time — felt like a lifetime. Sitting around the dinner table every fall listening to everyone else get to share their hunting stories was exciting, but also hard on a little girl’s patience. Looking back, I see how kind and encouraging my parents were to allow me to come along to “help” pack out, or call in game. They had me believing I was quite the hand. The amount I learned and depth of the connections I built were unfathomable at that age, but looking back I see how much my growth, development, and love for the challenge heightened through such profound experiences I had while hunting as a kid.
Waking up well before dawn, we take off from a little cabin and begin a long hike. Dressed in my warmest clothes with a heavy 2506 Remington slung over my shoulder, I am more than ready for my first elk hunt. We try to sneakily slip past the cattle, but they see us and start loudly bellowing. Hurrying through their grazing grounds, we duck down over a hill. Here everything seems to be happening so fast; a herd of elk run by in the distance, jumping the fence on to private. “Shoot ... we missed our chance … the hunt is over,” I think for a brief minute, before I’m grabbed by the hand. We start to run over a hill, towards the sound of a bugle. My friend begins to cow call, hoping for a chance that the bulls are still rutting with it being the opening day of rifle season. I watch as a few cows, then a bull jump the fence and move towards us. They disappear into the trees and I swiftly drop a knee. Seconds later, they come trotting out one by one. As my friend whistles, a bull elk stops and looks us right in the eyes. I let out a breath and squeeze the trigger.
I can’t express with words what I felt in that instance. A lot of feelings for sure, but the biggest one I would say, is pride. Thinking I was going after a cow elk, and coming home with a bull. Being able to put food on the table for my parents instead of vice versa. Having a clean, ethical one shot kill. My hardwork and practice came together and paid off. I was the most excited, happiest 12-year-old kid there was.
Lacing up my boots, I zip up my jacket, pull my hat down over my ears, and lastly, wrap my jacket cuffs over my Windstopper Pullover gloves. As I crawl out of my tent and into the dark morning, frigid air hits my face. Now a grown woman, with many hunts under my belt, I have an even deeper appreciation for the hunt and value the challenge. I will push my limits and try my heart out; whether it be rain or shine, early mornings or late nights. Bow in hand, I head down the draw. Moving quietly, I listen for elk; they have begun to work their way up from the bottom. Walking faster now, I hoof it uphill. The sun begins to rise; I love being up to watch it happen. Nothing connects me to the earth or reminds me that there’s always a new beginning like watching that big ball of fire come above the horizon.
Call in mouth, I let out three chirps. To my satisfaction, a bull bugles back. He sounds young, unlike the deep, growling bull I heard last night. However, I remind myself that they all look the same in the freezer. Moving up the fence line, I come upon a wallow. The bull bugles again and steps out of the trees. My lips curl upwards into a small smile, as I watch him scratch his horns against the shrubs. I grab my call, just as the wind switches. He disappears in the blink of an eye.
Coming home emptied handed, I am asked if I had a good hunt. “A great one,” I say, never basing the success of a hunt off the harvest. I care just as much about filling my tags as I do about the time spent with my hunting partners, being a steward of the land, aiding in conservation, and learning new things. I’m glad to be working with a brand like FORLOH that values the journey as much as I do. They are a trailblazer of the industry; from their ethics and morals, to the esteemed technology and testing they use to make the gear. Just as I was proud to harvest my first elk, I am proud to be an ambassador for FORLOH. Together, we create, test, and share the greatest gear for men and women alike; all for the love of hunting.