Monday, November 24, 2008

hunting in the twilight zone . . .

The last four days were some of the strangest I've ever spent. I don't think I'm cut out for the hunting scene.

The trip was actually more of an armed hike than a hunt, since no one in our group fired a shot. I probably came the closest to shooting a gun, which is a very disturbing concept . . .

I will say that our campsite was gorgeous. Situated next to a creek, dense woods on either side, our camp was totally hidden from the road. Which is amazing, considering the size of the tent we erected. John, the tent owner and hunt organizer, called the monstrosity "Circus Maximus". It was an old army tent, and was so roomy that we fit our four cots, a wood stove, four chairs, a kitchen and dining table--with room to spare. The ancient canvas was ripped and rotted and a far cry from air-tight, but the stove managed to keep us somewhat toasty. (although one night I dreamed I was visiting Siberia . . .) Greg called the tent the Bat Cave.

And we ate like kings. John brought a turkey, steak, chicken breasts, salmon and lasagna--no PBJs for our group! Greg even brought me coffee each morning before the 3 hunters headed for their secret elk spots (carefully scouted out the day before), leaving me and Scout to our own devices for most of the day. I had envisioned catching up on my reading, but the tent was so cold and dark that I spent most of my free time out wandering on the innumerable forest service roads. Which is where my story gets interesting . . .

Greg made me promise that if I went out walking, I would carry a gun. He'd brought a little handgun for me to use for protection from predators--be they mountain lions, bears--or other hunters. Greg showed me how to put the bullets in the chamber and then how to shoot the thing. I'm terrified of guns, but paid attention and was actually able to load three bullets in the revolving chamber before I set out on my first trek. (The gun holds six bullets, but I figured if I couldn't stop a cougar with three shots, I was history anyway).

So, the first morning after Greg and Kim and John set out for Elk Ridge (as we affectionaly called it), I decided to hike up to where they'd parked about mid-morning. It had snowed a bit in the wee hours, so I wasn't worried about getting lost--I could just follow my trail back to the camp. I thought I knew the road they'd taken, so set off with my daypack, orange vest, gun and Scout for a bit of exercise.

I hiked uphill for nearly two hours, always thinking I'd see John's toyota around the next bend. I occasionally heard gunshots and prayed fervently that Greg had bagged his first elk. I was thinking about turning around when a pick-up truck with two seasoned ladies in camoflauge cruised up to me and stopped. It was practically the first vehicle I'd seen all morning.

"We've been tracking you for miles!" the driver told me.

"Yeah," said her friend. "We'd have turned back a while ago, but we wanted to see what kind of dog you had--its tracks just kept going in circles!"

I explained that I was looking for my husband who was out hunting, so they asked me to describe his vehicle. When I told them it was a red toyota, they looked at each other and chucked, then informed me they'd seen that vehicle parked on another forest service road--quite a few miles from my present location.

I gratefully accepted their offer of a ride back down the mountain, but then remembered I had a loaded gun hanging from my shoulder. "Would you take the bullets out of this for me?" I asked the driver (Judy was her name) as I handed her my gun.

Judy deftly emptied the three bullets from their chambers and handed the weapon back to me. "I'm glad to see you have a gun," she told me. "Even if you don't know how to use it."

"Yeah, I've heard there are mountains lions and bears up here," I replied.

"It's not the animals I'm worried about," she said, as I climbed in the truck and coaxed Scout up on my lap. "It's the other hunters. Some of them are just crazy."

They dropped me off at camp and about 30 minutes later the great hunters returned. Greg had seen three cows (that's female elk for the hunting impaired) sprint by, but hadn't had time to take a shot. We spent the afternoon scouting out other spots (and getting really lost) and that night we drove a lost hunter back to his camp--a good six miles away. The poor guy had been tromping around in sub-freezing temps for about six hours when he stumbled into our camp . . . and he'd been hunting in those woods for 20 years!

I was beginning to think this whole hunting thing was a bit insane . . .

The next day, I decided once again to try to hike to Elk Ridge. This time, Scout and I successfully reached the spot where they parked and sat down to rest on a rock near John's toyota. Greg radioed and said they were headed my way and told me just to wait for them. As I sat eating a Snicker's bar, a red pickup pulled up and stopped not far from me.

An older man, sixty-something, rolled down his window.
"Do you every get harassed for hunting with a dog?" he asked, nodding toward Scout.

I told him I wasn't hunting, just waiting for my husband.

"Oh, so you don't have a rifle, eh?" he said, and got out of the truck and headed toward me.

I mean, he looked harmless enough, but his statement and demeanor unnerved me. I decided I didn't want to chat with him.

"No rifle," I agreed. "But I have a handgun," I said, hoisting the holstered weapon for him to see. The man stopped in his tracks, about 15 feet away from me. Scout circled him, barking like crazy, until Greg and company appeared a few minutes later. And they all had rifles! The guy chatted nervously for about 10 seconds, then got in his truck and drove off in a hurry. I have to admit, I was glad I'd brought the stupid gun. The woods, it seemed, was full of strange people.

But we all got out alive, including the elk we'd hoped to shoot. I can now add "hunting trip in the scary woods with crazy people" to my list of accomplishments--but honestly, it's not an experience I'd like to repeat!


Kathryn said...

Good gravy, now you can add weird hunting experience to the 'what I did on my vacation and survived to write about it' list. Thanks for taking us with you!

Stephanie Anderson said...

Oh my goodness Shawn, your story made me nervous! I'm glad your husband arrived at the perfect time, gun in hand, and that you survived your hunting experience! :)

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