When I was a kid, I was really, really into fishing, and somewhere along the way, I picked up subscriptions to Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines. I read the hunting articles with gusto as well, and used to read all the outfitters’ ads in the back, imagining what it would be like to hunt javelina in Arizona or moose in Alaska. But hunting was not something that my family did, not my parents’ generation anyway.
My dad had an old Winchester model 94 rifle, chambered in obsolete .32 Winchester Special. When I finally got to be a teenager, and had been through hunter safety training at Boy Scout camp (in direct contravention to my mother’s orders to stay away from the rifle range), I was allowed to at least handle this rifle, and I used to take it out of the cabinet and clean it. It was in pretty rough shape though, with lots of copper fouling and crud. I don’t think it had been cleaned since sometime in the early fifties, if then.
But I never knew any adults who hunted, and so it pretty much slipped off the list of things to think about. When I lived in Northern California, one year I went looking for a wild turkey for Thanksgiving, having read a small book about turkey hunting. They were everywhere in that neighborhood, but I wasn’t able to find the flock that day until I had tramped all over about 300 acres of land. When I finally came across them, there they were, on the other side of the fence where my hunting permission stopped.
When I moved back to Washington, I started fishing again, and pretty much had to teach myself how to catch salmon, since that was also something that I didn’t learn from my family. I had a pretty frustrating first season, first not hooking any fish, and then hooking and losing them, but I eventually figured it out. For the past three years, I’ve been talking about getting a hunting license, too, since I live surrounded by elk, deer, grouse and bear, but I would always get caught up in other activities and, since hunting would require a steep learning curve, I would let it slide.
This year, though, I finally decided it was time to do something about it. I dragged out some of my brother’s rifles that are stored here, and ended up selecting the SVD Tiger/Dragunov as the closest thing to an elk rifle that I had, and I went and bought a license, my first one ever. I spent a few days during early deer season scouting around behind my land here, and the first day I went out, I jumped a small buck in thick alder and brush. He was up and out of there so fast I didn’t have a chance to shoot. I spent the next couple of days trying to find him again, but with no luck.
When elk season started, I went over to the forest behind Andrew’s place, where there was a lot more elk sign than at my place. I spent several days, getting into the woods at dawn and hunting until afternoon. I had a great time, and covered a lot of territory that I had never seen before, including a nice stand of second growth timber, which is not all that common around here anymore.
I quickly figured out a few things, mostly about noise, and moving quietly. Almost all my clothes are noisy, my pack is noisy, and especially the rifle is noisy. The safety is very stiff and loud, the plastic stock makes loud noises every time it brushes up against anything, and it is covered with sharp, angular protrusions that are uncomfortable against your body and tend to snag up on every little twig or branch.
For days of elk hunting, these old bones were as close as I got to an elk.
One of the best things I got out of hunting this year though, was learning the area behind my land at a level of detail that I did not know before. I found two different ways to walk up to the next network of logging roads on the ridge that lead all the way over to Oatfield road, where Andrew and Audrey and the Speranzas live, and was able to drive (just barely!) from that side all the way up to the top, where the ridge is only about as wide as the road and you could look into Middle valley on one side and over to the marsh below my house on the other side. GPS waypoints and Google maps are awesome tools.
On the last day of elk season, I was hunting in the clearcut behind my place, and jumped a blacktail buck out of his bed. He walked about 30 yards up towards the timber, and I stopped, sat down and pulled out the binocs. He stopped about 100 yards away, and stood there, perfectly broadside to me, and just watched me. If only it was deer season!
I came back for the four days of late deer season, looking for this buck every day, and never saw him again. The weather was rainy and sometimes very windy, and the deer stayed hunkered down and out of sight. The day after deer season closed, I went up to the clearcut again, and found the buck’s fresh tracks going right up the middle of one of the logging roads, right out in the open. They’re not dumb, those deer.