BLAZING ELK

 “MISSOULA ELK SEETHE, MOISTURE FANS BLAZE!”

That, folks, was the headline for a story about western Montana local hunting prospects in a regional outdoor publication twenty-five years ago this week. That would have been the week before the opening day of general hunting season just as it is this year. I remember that even way back then when I may have still had most of my marbles, I found the headline incomprehensible. Of course, the accompanying text didn’t have anything to do with “seething elk,” but I felt bad for the guy who wrote the story because he would be held responsible for the headline. You see, the people who write the stories, or columns like the one you are reading do not write the headlines. That comes from somebody at a desk who is manufacturing headline after headline and may not have even taken a close look at the story or opinion piece in question. I find it interesting that I remember that headline after all these years, and that I still want to advocate for a somewhat calmer approach to general hunting season that stars this weekend.

I know that’s a difficult thing to ask of folks who have been waiting months, or even years for this weekend if this happens to be their first hunting season.

The waiting and complaining for lots of folks who have been chained to desks all year is just about over. Most of my friends got the permits they were hoping for, so there isn’t much griping about the fairness of it all this year. Sparky and I sighted-in our rifles earlier this week, and saw several friends out at the range doing the same thing. Other friends have been doing some pre-season scouting and I’m sure they will share everything they learn with those of us who haven’t done any. And now it’s just get the gear together and get ready to go.

Which brings me back to the headline I mentioned.  What is going to be seething in the next few weeks, and especially on the opening weekend and a few days thereafter, are the woods and prairies of Montana.  They will be seething with eager, excited hunters, many of whom have spent little or no time afield the rest of the year.

Farmers, ranchers and other landowners who live much of the year in relative seclusion, with occasional visits from friends and neighbors, will suddenly find themselves besieged by strangers, seeking permission to wander their property with loaded guns. For many of those folks, this is probably the most stressful time of year, rivaled perhaps only by the days of calving, lambing, or harvest.

For lots of good reasons, many of those landowners no longer grant permission to everyone who comes along. That is a sad state of affairs that, in turn, tends to squeeze many hunters onto public lands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. We do have lots of great places to hunt on public land around here. Even so, hunters should be prepared to deal with the fact that the solitary hunting experience isn’t all that easy to come by. Solitude becomes greater as the distance from the roads and the trailheads increases, and that takes time and effort.

So I’m just telling you, if you happen to be kind of new to the game, and if you plan to hunt in a popular area, be prepared for crowds, and don’t get upset because others have showed up at your favorite spot.  They have a right to be there just as you do.

While I’m at it, let me assert the privilege of age and provide a few more pearls of unsolicited advice.

Be courteous and be safety conscious. Know exactly what your weapon is capable of, what you are shooting at, and what lies is behind your target. DO NOT POINT IT AT ANYTHING YOU DON’T INTEND TO SHOOT!

If you are lucky enough to hunt private land, close the gates, don’t drive off the roads, stay away from the livestock and buildings, and be twice as cautious and conscientious as the landowner asked you to be.

If you wound an animal, follow it until you can’t follow it anymore, whether you have managed to convince yourself it is just a nick, or not.  And if you happen to mess up a kill, and destroy meat, that’s too bad, don’t you dare abandon that animal in the field.

Never forget that the business of hunting and possibly killing another living thing is serious business, indeed. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to participate in this age-old ritual of autumn and we are obligated not to screw it up for other people.

So, do not be one of the bozos who start plugging away from the highway at a bunch of confused elk in the middle of a rancher’s posted alfalfa field.  If you do it, you are a bozo forever, and it makes it hard on all the rest of us.

A much better option is to get out of your vehicle, however distasteful that may be, and bust your way up some thick, overgrown drainage that nobody in his or her right mind would want to visit.  That’s where you are likely to find the deer and elk anyway, once the season begins.

Now, if my pal Sparky’s alarm clock works next Saturday morning, we will be getting up a couple of hours before dawn in the comfort of our palatial wall tent at the end of a picturesque valley somewhere in western Montana. We will have a nice cup of coffee and maybe a bowl of oatmeal. Then we will step out the front door of the tent into the chill of the mountain dawn and march off into the hills for one more hunting season.

I’m pretty sure the elk won’t be “seething” in our hunting area, but I know there will be a few around. That’s all any of us can really ask.

Good Hunting.

 

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