Remembering Monty

Monty with a beautiful Dall Sheep.
Monty with a beautiful Dall Sheep.

I WAS GOING THROUGH some old files one day when I came across a folder containing several letters in it. Many were from friends and acquaintances over the years, while others kept for legal purposes. One, however, from Monarch Longbows, made me stop and reminisce. It was a letter from a good friend of mine, Monty Moravec, long dead now. With a little hesitation and some deep thought, I slipped the weathered paper from its envelope and began to read the words hand-written across the pages.

The beginning of the letter said it all: “I guess a little of your talent rubbed off on me at the Longbow Safari in Canada this past year. This is my biggest bull and black bear yet.” I glanced at one of the images of a large 6-point bull elk, Monty smiling broadly from deep within the Montana wilderness. The other showed a large black bear, Monty straining to hold the exceptionally large head up.

Hell, I thought, I don’t have that kind of talent, much less luck. I stared at the images of huge animals and one of my good friends. I could hear his voice and see his quirky little smile as I read the letter. Then I sat back to pull out all the best — and some of the worst — memories I had of this strapping young man, a man who left this world much too soon.

I FIRST MET MONTY in July, 1989 at the North America Longbow Safari in Golden, British Columbia. In addition to his fuel servicing business, he was working for Byron Schurg, who owned Monarch Longbows out of Missoula, Montana. At the time he was shooting a massive 75# longbow he had made under Byron’s guidance. We hit it off right away shooting longbows and sharing campfires with other longbow enthusiasts and made plans to hunt together the following fall.

We spent the next few years hunting whitetails in the fall and sharing other hunting experiences. He was a great friend, fun to be around, and always getting us into strange predicaments.

At the Traditional Bowhunters Exposition in Hastings, Michigan, in January 1992, Monty asked me if I would like to come and hunt black bear with him in northern Idaho that spring. I agreed, and ordered a custom tulipwood longbow from him at the same time. I figured I needed a new bow, and what better way to break it in than on a hunt with the bowyer who made it for me?

I arrived in Missoula that May and we traveled over the border into Idaho where Monty had already set up camp and had a few working baits. There were other friends of Monty’s there, as well as Byron Schurg, who had sold Monarch Longbows to Monty recently.

That first night, after we had returned from an evening hunt, Byron and the others had a huge campfire going so Monty and I joined in the camaraderie.

“You like gin and tonic, don’t you?” Monty asked me. A rather dumb question, if you know me at all.

“Of course, I would love one,” I replied. He pulled out a fifth of Tanqueray and poured two drinks: one for him and one for me, in very large glasses.

The last thing I remember of the evening was Monty and I crawling back to his tent. I awoke with the worst hangover I have ever had, as well as having the strong desire to relieve my swollen bladder. Naked and not feeling well, I rolled out of the wall tent to meet several of the other campers sitting around. Not batting an eye, I stumbled through the group, across the dirt road, and relieved myself before stumbling back through several horrified people.

When I entered the tent, there was Monty laughing uncontrollably with his video recorder on. “I got the whole thing! From the time you woke up to now!” He said. I looked at the table between our cots. The gin bottle was empty. He made exactly two drinks with one fifth.

On his third solo float trip down the Moose John River, Monty took this magnificent bull moose.
On his third solo float trip down the Moose John River, Monty took this magnificent bull moose.

WE HUNTED HARD all week sitting in treestands over bait, stalking bears in the woods, and finally doing a honey burn on the evening before I had to fly back to Seattle. We had set two treestands next to each other but on different trees so he could film me. With a Coleman Peak 1 stove burning, a 1-pound coffee can with about two inches of honey was placed inside a crib made of pine logs. Now it was just a waiting game.

We sat there as the honey spitted, spat, and finally caught fire. I was just about to bale out of the tree when the fire subdued and the fuel ran out of the stove. Not five minutes later a bear appeared far down the hill. Then another slightly larger bear came walking in from directly in front of us.

“Too small,” I whispered toward Monty.

“That’s a big bear, T.J.,” Monty said back to me.

It was my last night and I had seen some huge bears, one of them we got on film that was twice the size of this one. When the bear walked over to the logs and dipped his head into them, I went on autopilot and let fly. At the release the bear reared up and the arrow took him in the spine. The roar was defending as the bear zipped down the mountain dragging its hind legs.

“Terrible penetration,” I said.

“I think you spined him,” Monty whispered back.

We sat there until dark and went back to camp. It was a long night and when the sun finally appeared we had all my gear loaded in Monty’s truck and were headed up to find the bear.

It was easy to follow the trail — a large swath of knocked down plants, trees, and grass descended almost 600 yards straight down the mountain into a box canyon of cedar and pine. At the creek, which was rushing heavily, the grass was matted down where the bear had laid down. All of sudden Monty looked up and said, “There he is! He’s coming for us!”

I glanced up and saw the bear not 20 yards away on the other side of the creek, growling and rising up. The next thing I saw was an orange shaft take him square through the chest as he folded into the grass.

“T.J., that was the finest shot I have ever seen!” Monty said to me. I was impressed as well, as the first arrow was something less than perfect.

Pictures, skinning, and boning complete, we packed the bear up the hill after finding a log on which to cross the roaring creek. I made it to the airport with less than 30 minutes to spare. As I walked into the gangway, I turned and Monty was standing on the other side of the glass wall smiling back at me.

A week later I received a phone call from Noelle, Monty’s girlfriend, asking how I felt. I told her I felt fine, and then she told me Monty was in the hospital fighting for his life with viral encephalitis.

Apparently, sometime on our bear hunt either a mosquito or a rodent bit Monty, transferring the virus to him. After I had flown home nobody saw or heard from Monty for three days. Finally, Byron Schurg went over to Monty’s house and found him incapacitated in bed. A trip to the emergency room and the virus was discovered, a virus that causes the brain to swell resulting in damaged brain cells and death. Since there is no cure for a virus the doctors at the hospital could only treat the symptoms.

I got a call from Monty about six days after he was admitted and we talked briefly before the nurse made him hang up the phone and get some rest. He sounded tired, but was in good spirits and was only worried about me. After nine days in the hospital he was released. Little did I know that this viral bout would change Monty forever.

THAT WINTER we hunted whitetails in Montana in sub-freezing weather out of Lincoln. He didn’t really seem the same as before, but I just figured it was residual trauma from the virus. Although we didn’t kill a deer, we had a blast.

The following spring we again headed back to northern Idaho for a bear hunt, but this time we rented a cabin at the Lochsa Lodge on the Lochsa River. The owners, Gus and Gerri, made us a special deal as they always did for Monty. In their lodge were several pictures of Monty in his kayak from many years earlier when he pioneered the Selway and Lochsa Rivers for kayaking. He was the first to do all the northern rivers alone in a kayak, and the photos of him in the lodge were of legendary proportion; every new river runner had Monty to thank, and Gus and Gerri made sure everyone knew it.

The hunting was lousy so we spent much of the time looking at property to buy along the river and spending time in the cabin talking. Unknown to me until then, Monty had lost his sense of smell and taste after the bout with the virus the year before, and eating was just something he had to do. He always complained that the only thing he could smell was the odor of electrical insulation burning. He also suffered from constant headaches that made him irritable and hard to be around.

One evening some of the young kayakers who knew Monty came to our cabin and invited us to a party they were having up at an old slash camp. Always one for adventure, Monty agreed and we drove up later that evening. When we pulled into their camp there, right in front of us on a flatbed truck with another truck’s lights illuminated it, were two strippers … in the middle of the wilderness, of all places!

I went off to talk to some of the kayakers I knew and grab a beer while Monty grabbed his wallet and walked over to the flatbed. When I returned, there was Monty, a dollar bill rolled up and placed in each of his ears, and two more stuck in his nostrils, and he was lying on the truck bed with a smile on his face. That image of Monty is forever burned into my mind, and I smile every time I think of it.

That summer I was attending the Great Lakes Longbow Invitational in Brighton, Michigan. Monty had flown back with several dozen bows and had rented a van. Every night when the dealer tents would shut down we would head over to this old restaurant called The Log Cabin. Two old Greek cousins ran it and their special — every night — was a 24 ounce marinated porterhouse steak with all the fried potatoes and Greek salad you could eat, all for only $16.00.

One evening after dinner we were heading into town for a drink and to visit with some friends when a possum ran across the road in front of the van.

“Go catch it, T.J.!” Monty yelled as he slammed on the brakes. I dove out of the van not even thinking about what I was doing, ran after the possum as Monty turned the van’s lights into the woods, and grabbed that critter’s tail. I mean to tell you, that thing was like a gyro in my hand, turning, spitting, and growling as I ran back to the van and tossed it inside. Everybody flew out of the van except Monty who was laughing his head off. “I didn’t think you’d do it!” He said. It took a few minutes, but we finally got the possum out of the van and off we went to town. Things like this happened all the time with Monty. He just loved to play jokes and kid with people.

IT WAS SOME TIME in July, 1995 and I was packing up for a business trip to Oklahoma City and thought I would call Monty and see how he was doing. He would call at least once a month, usually every other week, and we’d talk for over an hour. He loved to stay in touch with his friends and we enjoyed each other’s company so much that expensive phone bills were part of the relationship.

But this evening he was quiet and short, and did not want to talk.

“How’s it going?” I said.

“OK,” was his response.

“What are you doing this evening? Anything exciting?” I asked.

“Building bows,” he replied — short, curt, and to the point … not like the Monty I knew at all.

I assumed he was having a fight with his new girlfriend, Barb, since I could hear her in the background, so I told him I was leaving for three weeks and he could reach me at my apartment in Oklahoma City. All he said was, “Ok, bye.”

The next day was long as I flew from Seattle to Denver and on to Oklahoma City. When I checked into my apartment there were six messages waiting for me. One was from my wife who said that Monty had passed away the night before. I was stunned. I had just talked with him … what could have been so bad that would have caused him to die? The next message was from Rich Unger of R & J Enterprises with the same message. In fact, each and every message was the same … and then the last one was from my good friend Jay Massey.

“T.J., I didn’t want you to hear this from me, but you need to call me. Monty committed suicide last night.”

I was devastated, and just sat there for half an hour before I could even call Jay back. The sense of fear, loneliness, and loss were just too much for me.

WHAT I WAS LATER to find out, which was verified to me by the Ravalli County Coroner in a telephone call three weeks later, was that some time after Monty and I had hung up, his girlfriend left for an out of state trip and he proceeded to his bedroom where he placed a shotgun to his forehead and pulled the trigger.

No note. No goodbye, no kiss my ass … no nothing. He left the party and never told anyone why. Oh, there were lots of conspiracy stories: he was murdered (the Coroner proved that false); he was robbed; he had money problems … all the normal denial reasons of which I had several myself. I, nor just about everyone I knew, had an answer, and we never will.

Monty’s family had him cremated, his ashes deposited some place … I have no idea. Monarch Longbows was sold to Monty’s good friend and bowyer Chris Landstrom, who stills builds them today.

The tulipwood longbow Monty made for me sits in my home office. I know I should take it out and hunt with it again, and maybe someday I will. But for now it is one of the few reminders of my friend — the laughs, good times, hunts, and other not so telling things he was known for. And the bear I shot with him at my side resides in a place of honor in my living room, saved in a life-size mount, which reminds me of our great hunt and the ultimate devastation that resulted in the loss of one of traditional archery’s great guys.

I WAS HUNTING mountain goats in October of 1995 in central Washington. It had been a hard two weeks being alone when I finally killed a goat. My first thought was to call Monty. He always knew how this unique animal held a special place in my life. But it had been several months since he had died, something my mind still had not come to terms with.

I was sitting in camp, looking at the goat horns, when a blue grouse lit into a tamarack tree behind me. I quickly brought the bird to bag, then started a fire and roasted it. All I thought about that evening was how much fresh roasted grouse meant to Monty. I hoped he was watching me as I savored every last bite of that wonderful meal.

Monty on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. He was one of the finest whitewater kayakers I ever knew.
Monty on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. He was one of the finest whitewater kayakers I ever knew.

IT HAS BEEN A DECADE since Monty died, and the pain and sense of loss are still with me. I often wonder what I could have done that night so long ago, if I had only known, to prevent such a terrible tragedy to such a young and wonderful man, my friend. If I had only known … I could have flown over right away … I should have kept him on the phone. There are so many things that I just don’t know.

“The disease killed him, Tim,” Noelle has repeatedly told me. “He was gone the day he came out of the hospital, and there is nothing you, nor anyone else, could have done. Quit beating yourself up over it. You were his best friend, and yet you never saw it coming either.”

I think of Monty often, and look at what few pictures I still have of him with his Dall sheep, moose, bear, elk, and several huge whitetails. But two pictures I hold dear exist on my home office corkboard. One is of Monty in a kayak on the Lochsa River doing what he loved to do best next to bowhunting. The other is a black and white photo of Monty holding a deer mouse that he had baited with bread and shot with his bow one night while we were hunting bear, his grin as wide as can be.

There are so many stories I remember about my friend, like the time he created a one-tree forest fire while trying to do a honey burn and ended up bailing out of the stand at 15 feet. Or the time he walked out of our cabin as I was asleep and returned with a blow-up doll that he placed in bed with me and took pictures, and then threatened to use as blackmail if I didn’t get up and have a beer with him … it was two in the morning and he couldn’t sleep. He wanted to talk about hunting, girls, and what we should do in the future when we got too old to crawl around in the hills. Or the time he was on his second of three solo raft hunts down the Moose John River in Alaska when his pepper spray accidentally went off in his pants while fishing. He spent the next several hours sitting in the river, unable to stand up because of the burning. It wasn’t funny at the time, but he and I laughed about that for many, many years. He was just such a joy to spend time with.

Once a year I pull out two of his videos he made for me, make a drink, and sit alone in my den watching them. One is of our bear hunt in 1992 when he contracted the viral encephalitis. The other is a series of vignettes of a year in the life of Monty the bowhunter, from early season bear and deer hunts to out of state hunts, a 9-day backpack hunt for elk, to finally treeing a lion in December only to break his bowstring and let the cat go.

But the one thing that always stays with me was where in the video, after he has taken a few grouse, he says, “There’s nothing like the taste of fresh grouse roasted over an open fire.” That was my friend.

TONIGHT I AM SITTING AROUND A CAMPFIRE, on a ridge somewhere in central Idaho, scratching out these words about my friend into my notebook. I stalked two bull elk this evening without getting a shot, but managed to slip a Zwickey through a blue grouse, which has been roasting in the Dutch oven with several Angel Wing mushrooms I picked from a rotting aspen stump down in the valley below. The oven is removed from the coals and allowed to rest before being opened. I make a drink, stoke the campfire with another pitch log, and settle down to eat alone in the darkness. The wind has picked up and the temperature is dropping … a front is moving in. I zip up my wool coat and sit back to enjoy a meal — alone, as usual — taken from the mountain.

As I stare into the flickering flames of the campfire, I think back on all the good folks I have met and had the rare pleasure to share a campfire with along life’s strange trails, many of whom are no longer with us.

And I remember Monty.

(Excerpted from Campfire Reflections)

2 Replies to “Remembering Monty”

  1. TJ…Very heart felt. Tear crossed My eye. Always been a fan of Monty’s Bows and the most dog eared issue of Traditional Bowhunter I have is the one with Monty on it…Guess I need to read Your book..Cheers. Pete

  2. Ah timpanogos, if only you had seen him in a full red white and blue drysuit, red helmet, bright yellow lifevest running uphill baying like a hound dog after seeing two lions at midday in the lower canyon of the Middle Fork – same trip as the snow picture you have. He roared up the steep canyonside and the cats looked at him like he was bat shit insane and streaked up the hill.
    He wanted to try and tree them. For me.

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