Imagine bowhunting for elk and discovering a 70-million-year-old dinosaur. That’s exactly what happened to David Bradt in 2010.
Nakonanectes Brandti: Not Your Average Fossil
David Bradt had spent a long morning chasing elk in the remote mountains of Montana. He took a break by a creek, and splashed some water on his face. That’s when he spotted something unusual in the water. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was some type of fossilized dinosaur, which is rare enough. But Bradt’s discovery was extremely rare.
“This is one of the most complete examples of this group of marine reptiles ever found in North America,” said Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller, the lead paleontologist who investigated Bradt’s find. “Really, one of the best anywhere in the world. And significantly, it’s a new species.”
Bradt’s dinosaur was rare and special, but it’s not uncommon for hunters to find fossils. “In fact, many of the big finds in paleontology are made by non-paleontologists,” Druckenmiller said. “Because hunters and anglers are often out in wild places, they are naturally in a good position to find things.”
If you stumble upon a fossil while hunting you need to follow certain protocol. “It’s critical to know who owns the land, because they also own the fossil,” Druckenmiller said.
Bradt was hunting on federal land, and so he contacted the nearby National Wildlife Refuge System’s office.
“If a fossil is found on state land, then the state should be contacted,” Druckenmiller said. “If the fossil is found on private land, then the landowner needs to know. (Private landowners) can do what they want with it.”
State and federal agencies usually have connections with state repositories such as museums and universities, which have staff to collect and care for fossils found on public land. That allows them to study and share fossils with other scientists and the public, Druckenmiller said. “This is what I consider the right thing to do.”
If you find a fossil on public land, you’ll receive no cash reward. However, if it’s a new species like the one Bradt found, you get to have the dinosaur named after you.
What Else You Might Find
Fossils aren’t the only thing you can find while hunting. The woods are full of interesting items you can bring home.
Arrowheads: Areas that are good hunting spots today were often good hunting spots hundreds of years ago. Stone arrowheads remind us of hunters from another time who survived by bowhunting the same ground.
Arrowheads can be found in recently tilled fields, along creeks and sometimes just lying atop the ground, waiting for someone to find them.
Mushrooms: Morels, chanterelles and “hen of the woods” are the most common mushrooms that hunters find. These mushrooms pop up during spring turkey season, and some varieties like puffballs are available during fall hunting seasons. When you’re out hunting, stay alert for a side order of mushrooms to go with your wild game meat.
Sheds: Elk, deer and moose lose their antlers in winter and regrow them from late spring through summer. When you’re out hiking, scouting or turkey hunting, you just might find a cool souvenir once worn by a buck or bull. Sheds – the term used to describe loosed antlers – are a good sign that there’s deer in the area, and they make a nice decoration in your home.
All such finds remind us there’s nothing quite like bowhunting to get people outside and into fascinating country. It spurs us to connect with nature, procure some free-range meat, and find some truly incredible keepsakes and artifacts. If you’re looking for an adventure with many benefits, give bowhunting a try!