I’m staring down the barrel of Rifle Opener 2011. I swore this year would be different, but it’s not. I hiked my fat ass all over the south hills of Helena, and I even made some progress, at least until August rolled around. I hate the heat. Summer days are simply the banal immediacy of waiting for fall. They make me and our big, black dog lazy, both of us unwilling to head into the outdoors for further sweating.
I dropped the ball again. Prior to August, I was up to about 5 miles per hike, each completed with a 20pound pack over fairly steep terrain, but then it hit: dog days. Screw it, it’s too hot. I couldn’t sleep at night; the dog refused to move. I was regularly putting in extra hours at the office. Now, I’m paying for my lethargy as I try to scramble up the hills south of town in hopes the elk won’t openly mock me when I start the long climb up their hills.
Fat guys don’t like heat; at least this one doesn’t, so it’s with great joy that I watch the leaves turn color. I see archery hunters heading out into the fields and forests, stealthily sneaking in to the waiting jaws of Ephraim. I envy those guys. Guys like Seacat and Newberg are out doing what matters to them. It takes a lot of hard work to chase an elk on public land during the rut. Archery hunters have grown by over 100% in the last 20 years in Montana, according to FWP. That’s a lot of carbon fiber and Sitka gear out in the hills. It takes a lot of hours in the gym, on the trails and in front of a target to reach a point where you’re confident enough to stand up, strap on 50 pounds, and head into the wild to put a 1,000 pound critter on its side with an arrow.
I like knowing that those guys are out there. It’s important not only for the local Hoyt proshop; it’s important to our collective psyche that those guys are still out there: men to match the mountains.
God forbid the day we give up that legacy in favor of comfort. God forbid we give up what is wild, for what is convenient.
At least for right now, I am a rifle hunter. I love cold blued steel and warm walnut. I’ve always been partial to German designs. I grew up staring at my father’s two hunting rifles (long after he gave up hunting for more demanding chores). One was a C.G. Haenel Commission rifle. This weekend, the Haenel will be coming out of retirement.
On Friday, I head down for our third annual Doe Safari.. A group of us gather at a friend’s house. He then feeds us too much food with names like Atomic Buffalo Turds and Phatties. We go out and attempt to perform some whitetail wildlife management on a severely overpopulated region. This year the safari is only 4 days in length. It’s never enough. Last year 11 of us harvested 28 whitetail. This year, I’m hopeful the seven of us will put about as many on the ground. This is the warm up for mule deer along the Marias River Breaks, and chasing late season bulls on the Rocky Mountain Front. This is the initial bloodletting in all of its delicate glory.
I hunt for the meat. I hunt for the fellowship. I don’t hunt for the kill. The kill is anti-climactic. No matter how many times you put one on the ground, you still say “I’m sorry.” Last year as we were loading up the cow elk I shot, my friend, Karl, looked at me and said “In the old days, I would have come up here with you and we would have done this together, but anymore, I just can’t stand to see ’em go down.” Maybe, someday, I’ll hit that wall. Not this year. This year is about filling the freezer, giving thanks, and telling these critters,” I’m sorry. “
We fight those who would take this away from us. We fight those who would steal our birthright, and our hard work. Fall is the time of the hunter. There is no hunter more aware and alive than the Hunter Conservationist.