Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Every story needs to be told

For my senior year of high school, I had moved to the thriving metropolis of American Falls, Idaho. If I remember correctly, my senior class had a total of 97 students in it at the beginning of the year. There wasn't much to do in that little community, and, after some inquisition, I found out that for fun these guys went hunting and fishing. Now, I had been fishing all my life, and it was, from time to time, more than a passion for me. Hunting, though, was not something I had ever done much of.

I grew up in a big city life, and later found out that my dad had given up hunting after moving to Utah and having a couple very dangerous hunts and had sold his rifle. I had some friends in Utah that hunted, but I never had so I didn't think it was "my thing." However, shortly after coming to Idaho, Grandpa Taylor took me "plinking." The ground squirrels dig holes all through the cattle pastures and are a general nuisance to ranchers. We took out some .22's and had a long day of fun. Toward the end of our day, though, we were approached by a couple of Game Wardens. I didn't know at that time that I needed to have a license to shoot varmints in Idaho. Luckily, Grandpa Taylor, being the talker that he was, convinced the senior officer not to ticket us, and to just warn us. That little escapade earned me the nickname "poacher" and also convinced me to take Hunter's Education. That summer, my brother and I both passed Hunter Ed, and dad took us on a one-day deer hunt that fall. We ended up seeing several does, but no bucks. It didn't matter to me, I loved the experience.

Back to American Falls. When baseball season rolled around (well, kind of, we were practicing in the gym because March is still winter in Idaho) I met a person that drove the hook in deeper. Shane and I started hanging out after school and before practice. We only had about 4 subjects of conversation: baseball, hunting, fishing, and, of course, girls. Through the rest of our school year we became great friends, and especially hung out the next fall when we could go chase college girls. Over that summer and early fall I somehow invited myself on an annual family elk hunt with Shane, his brother, dad and grandpa. I borrowed Grandpa Taylor's 30/06 and practiced with it a couple times before the hunt. Also, Shane's dad, Van, took a lot of time to go over the hunt area maps with me so I could give my parents a decent idea of where we'd be (yeah right I was so freaking lost...).

The day finally came. We loaded into Van's truck and hit the road. I was so excited I don't think I even noticed the normally long and boring drive to Boise. In fact, I don't remember the drive at all, come to think of it. No, wait, I have one VIVID memory. As we were winding up the twisty gravel roads, we came along side a Salmon River tributary. We all looked at the water, it was beautiful and we hoped we'd get to see some fall steelhead running. Suddenly we want around a corner and came face to face with a BIG Mack dumptruck coming down the hill. When the skidding stopped, we were close enough to see the facial features of the Mack bulldog on the hood, and I had to check to see if I need to change pants!

Unfortunately, I didn't take Van's advice to put this story down soon enough. This was 11 years ago and most of the hunt is very hazy. However, there are some parts that are just as fresh in my mind as they were the days they happened. The first is the pack in. I knew how far it was going to be, we'd been over it several times. I just didn't know how long it would take to get there! After what I was sure was our 300th hour of walking I asked how much farther. I was told that we were about half way! I could have died, and found out later that my disappointment was very obvious. Luckily they were all just having some fun at my expense and it was only a couple minutes later that we turned from the trail to the meadow that would be home for the next several days.

The next highly memorable event was out grouse slaughter, but it doesn't need a lot of explanation. Just to say, grouse is good eatin'.

The most memorable of all though, and the reason for telling the story, is the day I got my bull. Since I had never been to the area before, nor had I ever really spent much time in the mountains, I had been splitting time with everyone in camp. That day I was hunting with Van, and we woke up to a cool morning and a skiff of snow. We had high hopes that day because of the snow, and headed out quickly. We hunted through the morning and didn't hear or see anything but a couple guys riding their horses up the trail blowing bugles trying to locate the elk. As the day warmed, Van and I sat down under a big shady tree and had some sandwiches. As we ate, Van layed out his plan to hunt along the ridges and saddles and eventually end up back at camp. We had crossed only a couple of ridges after lunch when Van told me to go to the top of the next one and find a quiet place to sit down, that he'd catch up in a while. I had only been sitting on my log for maybe a minute when I heard a twig snap behind me and to my left. I thought Van had gone all the way around me and was coming down the hill to me now, but, when I looked, I saw a very nice little mule deer buck. He walked down the hill and passed by me at under 30 yards. Even though deer season was open, I had been asked not to shoot a buck unless it was an absolute monster since we would have to pack it out all that way. I put the cross hairs on his chest but did not pull the trigger, I just watched him continue walking down the ridge. The next twig to break came from my right, and was Van. He had seen the deer too, and, when he sat next to me, we watched that buck for several minutes together as we sat and talked. Even though I had never seen an elk in the wild - heck that had been the first buck deer I'd ever seen - I had been joking to Van about seeing elk around every bend since we had got to the mountains in the truck, and he had been doing the same to me. So, when I turned to look at the next twig snapping behind me, and told Van that a bull elk was right behind us, he didn't believe me. In fact, he said, quite loudly, "well shoot it then." I said, "oh, ok." I immediately dropped off of the log onto a knee and put the cross hairs on the shoulder of the elk I had actually seen. Just as I was about to pull the trigger, though, I questioned if it was actually a bull - I don't know why, it was my first hunt. After confirming it had antlers, I repositioned on his shoulder and started to squeeze the trigger. At some point Van realized that I wasn't kidding, and turned as well to see the bull staring at us from about 35 yards. I still don't know what that bull was thinking to stand there that long, but after I didn't shoot for what Van said was forever, he decided to take the shot. There was a great echo as both 30/06's went off almost as one. That bull didn't run very far and we found him on the other side of the rise, almost at the edge of a small pond. Van immediately went to work to gut and half the elk, while I stood there dumbfounded and watched.

Again, the rest of the trip is a blur. I know we had some problems with the horse trailer on the way out of the hills, but I don't remember anything else about it. The small 5x6 antlers still sit on top of the horse barn at my parents house, waiting for a spot in my landscaping, I guess.

I still haven't killed a deer and that is the only elk I've taken, though I always hope to remedy that. I will always be greatful to that awesome family for letting a very green but budding hunter tag along on their time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Here we go

Well, although I have been out hunting a few times by myself already (brought home one whole dove and blanked on five coyote stands) our family's season is just beginning.

Last year we started what I hope will be a long-time tradition in our family, our opening day duck hunt. On the first Friday of October, Heidi and I took the boys to Rexburg, ID (the girls stayed with my parents and mostly played Barbies and bugged Papa if memory serves) to pick up my little sister, stay the night in a hotel and for Tommy, Heidi and I to hunt ducks the next morning. It rained most of that Friday, and I was afraid it would rain Saturday morning as well. Sure enough, when we got up it was still raining and it was COLD. I told Heidi that she and Tommy could stay at the hotel if they wanted, but they were both really excited for the hunt. So, we loaded up and went out to Cartier Slough WMA just west of town and just off of the Henry's Fork. The cloud cover was low but the rain had become more of a drizzle. I got all of the gear strapped on my back and then made sure Heidi and Tommy had on as much rain gear as I could scrounge up, and off we set for a little pond I had seen before. It turns out the rain was not the end of my bad luck. I had forgotten my waders and the ponds were much more swollen than I had hoped. I did find us a nice little spot of water just off the main trail, and managed to throw out 6 decoys without overcrowding the hole. Then the luck got worse. As the sun finally started to come up, the drizzling rain got heavier and then turned to snow. I couldn't help but think the other two had to be freezing, but Heidi still had an excited look on her face, so we stuck it out. Almost shooting light now and I can hear the ducks flying over us. It's obvious that there are a lot of birds, and suddenly a nice flock dropped below the clouds. There must have been 30 mallards coming right over the trail, right at us. I raise my gun and hear a "click" OH NO!!! I cycle the semi-auto action and try again on the next wave of birds, "click." My old "dependable" failed me. I got Heidi to shoot a couple times, before we all froze, and we decided to pack it in after about 45 minutes. As we walked back to the truck the ducks continued to fly over in numbers I hadn't seen before. In that short 45 minutes to an hour I guessed that we must have seen at least 500 birds, and, although we didn't bring any home, we all had the time of our lives.

Now, in just over a week, we will try to do it again. This time Savana wants to go and my brother will be with us as well. It should be a blast.