Keeping the Wild in Montana: Through the Eyes of Photographer Donald M. Jones

By AARON PARRETT

You may not know Donald M. Jones personally, but if you live in the West (especially Montana), chances are you’re familiar with his work. He’s been responsible for more than 800 wildlife shots on magazine covers, ranging from The Big Sky Journal to Montana Outdoors. He’s also been a regular contributor to Field and Stream and Sports Afield, and is hailed as one of the premier wildlife photographers in the profession.

A beautiful coffee table book features Jones’ finest Montana images, called Wild Montana (Farcountry Press, 2017). This is book number eleven for Jones, whose working motto is “keep the wild in wildlife.”

It’s a work ethic he lives up to admirably in this volume, which is 120 solid pages and 168 stunning images of the captivating shots of the fauna Montana is famous for: grizzly bears languishing in tall grass, stately buffalo snorting steam on a frosty morning, and even a brilliant shot of a pronghorn in mid stride with a motley of tumbleweeds draped across his brow.

Jones writes his own captions for the book, which are a perfect blend of the personal, the humorous, and the informative.

Sometimes the reader is treated to what went through the photographer’s mind as he snapped the shutter, which offers some insight into how Jones seeks out and accomplishes his artful shots.

Other captions offer comment on the joys of having a professional occupation that puts him in touch with so many different forms of life in so many different landscapes.

Along the way, Jones subtly answers questions readers are likely to ask themselves in seeing a bird, for example, captured in an odd pose: “A common raven differs from a crow in larger body size, larger bill, and call. This bird with its feathers puffed out was strutting atop the snow to attract a nearby female.”

“Photography started as a hobby for me before I met my wife, but in 1993 she convinced me to try making a living at it,” Jones told me recently. “But I went into it knowing I wanted to stay close to family. Even though I travel 180 days a year all over North America, I tried to arrange it so I was never on the road for more than 10 days at a time, away from my kids.”

Although his kids are now grown and off on their own, Jones still puts in his hours on the road, driving from Troy (where he makes his home) to Freezeout Lake, for example.

He will sleep in his car so he can be up before dawn to capture images of thousands of Snow Geese taking off like a cloud of gossamer.

“It’s a great life,” Jones said. “But the down side is that it’s no thrill sleeping in the back of a Subaru for a couple weeks at a time.”

Jones has made Troy, Mont., his home for more than 25 years. It provides easy access to a lot of prime country in which to ply his trade, but it’s also a part of the world that offers the comfort of relative seclusion.

Wild Montana is a reflection of more than 36 years living in the Treasure State as seen through the eyes of a seasoned photographer.

And living in Troy and keeping his office just three blocks from the Kootenai River has advantages, too.

“I’ve travelled all over North America on assignments, but I’ve had photos in national magazines that I’ve literally taken from my office,” Jones said. “That’s Montana.” MSN

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