October has always been my favorite month. I love everything about it. The change of the colors of the leaves, the western larches turning golden, Halloween, and of course because it’s upland hunting season.
October is also my birthday month. I almost forgot to send my twin brother a birthday card because I wasn’t going to celebrate it. He lives in another state, and loves the outdoors and public lands as much as I do. He’s a hiker, kayaker, nordic skier, and cat person, but he’s also a vegetarian. It’s difficult not being able to share a big part of my life with one of the closest people in my life. I get it: not everyone is crazy about hunting or high energy bird dogs; I respect that. I sure some of you out there can relate to this, and have a close family member who doesn’t approve of your hunting lifestyle.
My twin brother and I weren’t exposed to hunting growing up because my Dad, uncles, or even my grandfather didn’t hunt. Everything my family ate or my mom made while I was growing up came from either a cardboard box, tin can, glass jar, or the frozen food section in the form of a Hungry-Man TV dinner. The reality of actually harvesting one’s own food was foreign to me until I met Bob. Early in our marriage, a few miles from his family cabin near Henry’s Lake in Idaho, he shot an elk. Staying behind at the cabin with one of the two-way radios, while he was out hunting, he said he’d radio me when he was heading back. Around noon, I heard over the radio “Leslie, can you hear me? Over.” I answered, “Yes, I can hear you. Over.” Expecting him to say he was heading home empty handed, he replied “I shot an elk, and I need you drive the pickup and come help me carry it out. Over.”
My heart sunk. I was happy for him but dreading the sight of a dead elk up close. He gave me directions to the Forest Service road that I’d need to drive in on, and where to park, and the hike in to find him. After parking, I followed the trail into the forest and found the bright florescent colored flagging tied to a pine tree just like he said he would leave for me so I’d know which direction to head. Getting closer, I got a slight glimpse of him bending over the dead elk. I yelled to him, “I’m here, and I don’t want to see it!” He yelled back “Just stay over there, I’m almost finished.” I sat down and leaned on a pine tree and waited while he field dressed it.
This part of Idaho is in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and in prime Grizzly bear territory. I know this first hand because I’d seen one in this area the previous fall. I sat there at the base of the tall lodgepole pine tree with a can of bear spray firmly gripped in my palms, reading several times the directions on how to use it. The winds were blowing through the matchstick-sized pines overhead, making whispering, moaning, and cracking noises. The wind would pick up some leaves on the ground and toss them around, and I swore it was a bear nearby and I was a goner. Bob finished his job and I helped him drag the sled holding part of the elk and other parts of it in our backpacks through thick forest. When we got back to the pickup, I sighed a sense of relief that I was still alive, furious he’d put me that situation even though we’d seen no sign of bears in the area. Sometimes you do things for your loved ones that you’re not super crazy about doing. Then he said, “Let’s go get the rest of it.” I’d forgotten there were another two quarters to haul out.
My introduction to chukar hunting wasn’t so dramatic, but I went because I wanted to see Angus point and was curious about the terrain I’d seen in Bob’s photos. I was a competitive athlete at the time and figured it would be a nice way to get some exercise in the off-season and see some new country. Following Bob around with only my camera, he’d hand me his shot gun to hold whenever we crossed a gate or a barbed wire fence, and I’d hold it in fear. I was afraid of guns back then. Looking back, at that moment, I had no intentions ever to hunt; it just shows you life is weird and you should never to judge other people because one day you might be participating in an activity that you once thought you’d never do in a million years. Hopefully, if you do decide to try something new, your family will be supportive.
My birthday came and went and I’m happy to report nothing bad happened. As of today October 31st, Angus seems fine. He’s had some long hunts the past couple of weeks, and is taking longer to recover, but a lot of that is age-related. Most of the birds the dogs have been finding are busting wild, but Bob and I have managed to get some shots on point with him and have bagged both chukar and huns. I’m thrilled and relieved I was able to spend several gorgeous October days hunting with both dogs, hunting with some visiting friends and their dogs, and of course spending time in the chukar hills with my beloved husband Bob.
Happy Halloween! And don’t be afraid of birthdays or noises in the woods.