It’s time to wear orange when we hike: Me in my vest and the dog in his kerchief.
It’s that season again. On the highway, pickups now outnumber the huge RVs from out of state. I’ve begun to hear rifle practice in the distance once in a while. The bow hunters have gone up into the hills.
When autumn comes around, I’ve learned, many of my friends will be away for a while. For them, this is not negotiable. Everyone understands.
Everyone except me, that is. Much as I love tramping around in the wilderness, I’ve found it difficult to relate to this custom of going out into the woods, tracking animals down, and killing one.
As the child of two teachers in a Midwestern city, hunting was never part of my experience. I lived for a while in England after my marriage. Over there, I thought of hunting as something done by the nobility (whom I never met), chasing a fox while riding horses (which I had never done).
At the sound of the word “hunting,” I reacted instinctively with disapproval, as if someone had tapped my knee with a hammer.
Then, much later, we moved to Dubois. I made many good friends here–earnest, deeply moral people. Some of them, I soon learned, go out hunting every fall.
As I enjoyed venison and elk burgers, I didn’t spend time thinking about the contradiction–any more than I have thought much afterwards about a conversation with a vegan who discussed the living conditions of the animals that provide the eggs and milk I buy at Superfoods.
There are cattle right over there in the valley out my window. I am aware that they are future steaks. But I wouldn’t want to shoot one or extract the meat. We all choose our own moral imperatives, and this one just doesn’t run very deep with me, one way or another.
And I’m very interested in the people who were hunting here as early as people arrived here in the first place. I’ve hiked up to the remains of ancient hunter’s blinds. I’ve visited sheep traps where they presumably bludgeoned wild sheep for their tribe’s dinner.
I’ve heard the artist and historian Tom Lucas describe his decades of effort learning to make some of the swiftest and strongest bows ever made, just the way the native Shoshone must have done it, from bighorn sheep horns.
That’s him in the picture, talking to some bow-hunters who were deeply interested in his craft and skill. Until we moved to Dubois, I had no idea that many people still hunt wild game with bows.
I can’t imagine the skill involved in taking down a huge elk with a mere bow and arrow of any kind. But I’ve come to understand that the passion goes much deeper than mere sport.
“It’s the challenge,” Michael said when I asked him why he enjoys hunting. “I mean, I go way, way up into the wilderness — above 10,000 feet. I set up my little camp, with the tent and the PVC tube running out from a stream for my drinking water.
“It’s wonderful. When I’m out there I don’t see another soul. I don’t even care if it snows. You can’t imagine how many elk I see, huge ones, dozens of them. Until the last day, I just let them pass, because I don’t want to have to go back down earlier.”
I like the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.
“So it’s the mountain man thing?” I asked. “The survival?”
“Well, not just that. You know, my grandfather was a commercial hunter. I must have been 4 when I shot my first quail. This goes way back for me.”
So there’s a strong element of family tradition and nostalgia as well. I can relate to that; it’s just not my history.
Also, he actually needs the meat. Like so many here, Michael is in a seasonal business, and his wages don’t come in year-round. Just like the ancient Shoshone, many local hunters are going out to put food on the table. But Michael mentioned that reason last.
“So how do you get up there?” I asked. “Do you go in a four-wheeler?”
“Naw,” he scoffed. “I walk. I love the walk.”
Now that I can relate to.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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