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SITKA Gear | 5.13.2018

Leading By Example

  • Pursuit: Big Game
  • Environment: Subalpine

Jaimie Stoltzfus didn’t grow up hunting, but now as a mother, rancher and hunter, her family’s food sources are central to her life and livelihood. The Stoltzfus family takes care of a sprawling ranch near the Yellowstone River in southwest Montana. The family operation extends beyond ranch life to busy hunting seasons spent providing wild game for the year and dedication to the family business — Cowgirl Meat Company — which Jaimie started as a source of healthy, local protein for her family and community. Whether on the ranch or in the field, Stoltzfus views motherhood as embodying the type of person she wants her children to be with a committment to showing them the lifelong lessons that can be learned through time spent outdoors.

Jaimie Stoltzfus at home on the ranch.

I’m a mom. I’m a hunter. And I’m a ranch wife and a cowgirl. I don’t see any division in that. I’m all of that all the time. It's an attitude and a way of life for me, and I want to pass that on to our kids.

Jaimie and her son after a successful antelope hunt. "He was with us all day," Stoltzfus said of her son, who was 8-months old at the time. "He took two naps and we slid his pack along with us as we belly crawled in on this buck. It's probably the most fun hunt I've ever had." Photo by Austin Stoltzfus.

Having kids definitely changed our hunting. We used to take weeklong pack trips and go as far into the mountains as we could to hunt elk. We still go out as much as we can, but it’s a little different in this season of life. Hunting is still a priority though. When we had kids, it became really important to us that we wouldn’t give up who we are or what we do. We involve them and serve as examples for something we believe is really important.

After a close call on an unsuccessful turkey hunt, Jaimie wakes the kids and begins the morning ritual of feeding their cattle just a short distance from where she hunted that morning.

After feeding, Jaimie and the kids pay a visit to the calving barn to check on the status of newborns.

It’s important for us to pass on our values, life skills, the importance of hard work, caring for what we have, and learning about life and death. We believe kids can handle that, and we teach it to their level. We’d rather our kids learn it from us in a very healthy way, and we’re very grateful to be able to do this.

Age is just a number on the ranch. The kids have their hands in every aspect of the work and lifestyle involved with raising cattle.

Rigging a youth saddle that Jaimie’s husband, Austin, rode when he was a child.

The biggest thing we want to instill is a healthy respect for hunting and animals, both wild and domestic, and that translates to so many other things. Our kids are learning to treat animals with respect, and that translates to people. Hunting is a huge responsibility and a privilege. Our oldest is now at the age to know where his food comes from, and that’s really important to us. I think we’re getting away from that as a society. Being outside learning firsthand life skills that translate to everything he’ll do as an adult gives him confidence and skills that can’t really be learned in a classroom or behind a screen.

Tightening the cinch before trailering the horses to a branding.

The work begins at the base of the Absaroka Mountains.

Jaimie goes for the heel shot to help her husband wrangle the next calf in line.

It’s a family affair on every front.

Hunting and working on a ranch have taught me so many life lessons, which have made me grow as a person and made me a better wife and mom. As a mom, it is my goal to lead by example and I want to show my kids that women are strong and that they can do whatever they set their mind to.

Jaimie waits for a strutting tom on his way to roost off the banks of the Yellowstone River.