Although the rather unexpected warmer temperatures and lack of snow at low- to mid-elevations during most of our recent hunting season did not help much, many hunters had a great season. And seasons are measured in a variety of ways, depending on each individual hunter.
The recreational hunter ventures forth to enjoy the peace and serenity of early morning sunrises, enhanced by a background of snowy Cabinet peaks. They may be seeking solitude, or they may be turning on friends and family members to the experience. Howling coyotes in the distance, fresh sign and the undeniable smell of elk through the wind fuels their passions. The meat hunter journeys forth to procure high-protein, nutritious and lean meat for survival. It is a noble undertaking to hike miles to pursue and obtain the nourishment that will keep themselves, family and friends alive throughout the winter.
This pursuit is not unlike the traditional practices of Native Peoples, early explorers and fur trappers. It is as natural as other top predators of the food chain including cougar, wolf and grizzly bear. The trophy hunter challenges endurance, equipment and sharp-shooting or archery skills to harvest only the best of the best. They may pass up some fine specimens of wildlife to zero in on a trophy whitetail, mule deer, Pronghorn, moose or Rocky Mountain elk.
And for some, there may be a spiritual aspect to their experience, as they meander through the sub-alpine fir trees and undertake the hunt for a majestic being that makes its home in the woods. Hearts beat as loudly as a ceremonial drum, with the compilation of the elements, nature and the wild enlightening them. Many hunters — perhaps more than we might imagine — are all of the above mentioned type of hunting enthusiasts.
There is a great camaraderie among hunters. Human beings, who may or may not know each other, watch out for the well being of others in the field. Even as we pass by another rig pulled over, we eyeball the situation to make sure everything is OK. Oftentimes, we network and chat a bit. We’ll share information on how the roads are, and if they are passable or not. Maybe we’ll rap about how the deer sign looked, and if we saw any elk tracks.
In the field, there is a common bond. This past season it was very encouraging to see. Folks were out there helping other hunters gut and drag out deer. Outdoors men and women were ready to assist if a senior citizen needed a hand up and out of a treacherous creek bank while moose hunting. People were actually spotted picking up others’ trash off the side of the road. It’s a beautiful thing.
And speaking of beautiful things, it was inspirational to see many more women hunters in the field this year. The ladies can add so much more to the entire experience. Their enthusiasm, excitement and the homemade snacks they bring sure make for a more pleasant day, no matter what the outcome. They also rise to the occasion, refrain from any complaining, and peg kill shots like true sharpshooters. The huntress ladies helped make this season a great one.
As for this individual at this writing, this season measured up and above many others in some special and enlightening ways.
Brian Baxter is a forester, wildlife researcher, educator and author of articles on the outdoors. He has worked in the area for decades and teaches a variety of outdoor educational programs for various local groups.