Confessions of a Rookie Idaho Outdoorsman
Having lived in Idaho for a number of years,
by Peter Fischer
I have become more and more involved in the outdoor activities that make this state so special. It begins with dunking worms for trout around the bridges where the stocking trucks make their stops, and currently consists of a garage full of gear (float tube, quality fly rod, vest, waders, etc., etc.), so that I can spend the day releasing fish on some of Idaho’s quality streams. I’m now hoping that Santa Claus will provide me with a fly-tying setup, and am even starting to learn the names of some of the most common "bugs" in Idaho.
Then, there’s bird hunting.
Beginning with a garage sale shotgun I now also have a camo duck boat, and a garage half-full of duck and goose decoys, camo clothing (including a facemask), and enough auxiliary stuff (all essential) to fill up the back of my truck.
In the midst of all this gear-collecting,
you also have to learn how to "whittle and spit," turn a short story into a long one, and lie selectively. And, one of the keys to being a successful outdoorsman, I find, is to have a proper hat. It should be as "nasty" as possible, but of good quality. One good way to break in a new, good-quality hat is to tie it behind your pickup and drive from Lucky Peak Reservoir to Atlanta, Idaho – and back.
One thing I’ve learned
about enjoying Idaho’s outdoors is that it isn’t the size of the "bag" that matters, it’s knowing you have done everything "right." In fact, I will gladly settle for fewer fish or birds as long as I feel I have the right equipment, am using it "properly," and that I’m making the most of the day and situation at hand. Really.
I’ve also learned
that no matter how much I read about an outdoor activity in Idaho, I will make every possible mistake until I have learned – in the field – how to do it right.
Which brings me to antelope hunting.
Some years ago,
when I had a little bit of something called "disposable income" (haven’t seen any since), I bought a new Weatherby 30-06. The plan was, of course, that I would take advantage of some of the big game hunting that Idaho has to offer. Knowing that I would only buy one big game rifle, I wanted one that would be an all-around gun. After doing a lot of informal research, I learned that everyone in Idaho has a different opinion about which is the best all-around big game rifle. So – in my "scientific" way, I went to one of the local pawnshops and counted the rifles by caliber. There were more 30-06s than any other kind, and so, my decision was made.
Well, one year I drew an antelope permit
for the Copper Basin area out of Sun Valley. This area provides some of the best camping in the state. It is huge country – miles and miles of high desert surrounded by timber-covered mountains. The valleys are sage-covered, and there is enough country that you can get as far away from a road as you would ever want to. It also happens to be the home of a large number of herds of antelope.
One of my hunting buddies also drew
for the same area and with great excitement we decided to make a weekend trip in early October.
As usual, I did everything wrong.
First, I didn’t have a good map, which is always a prelude to a "screw-up." My friend and I drove separately (I had the wife, kids, dog and a camping trailer) – and we lost my friend Friday night about 1 a.m. I never saw him again until I returned to Boise.
He was NOT a "happy camper," since I had all the food, water and beer.
Second, I hadn’t sighted in my rifle
since hunting season the year before. Truthfully, I didn’t expect to even see an antelope, much less shoot one. And even if I did get lucky, being one of the world’s worst shots made the accuracy of the rifle irrelevant.
since actually shooting at something was a remote possibility – a good knife surely wasn’t necessary. I did happen to have a 4" pocket knife with me (great for opening letters), but only by chance.
I had absolutely no idea how to field dress an antelope, or any other big game. I assumed it would go something like a duck, just larger. But, who cared? I wasn’t going to shoot anything anyway! Right?
On Saturday evening,
while driving around looking for my lost buddy, the kids spotted four antelope in a grassy gully not far off the road. We decided to stalk them. We drove past the gully to a point where the antelope were behind a hill and couldn’t see us. We all got out of the truck (admist slamming car doors and a barking dog) and made a semi-quiet stalk up the hill. I motioned the troops down as we crested the hill, and I went the last few yards on my hands and knees. As I topped the hill, there were the antelope, totally unsuspecting. I was lying down. I drew on the small bunch and identified the largest buck, took a deep breath, and touched off a round. My thinking was that if I hit within two or three yards of the animal, I would declare victory and go home happy.
But, something magical happened.
The crosshairs held steady, I squeezed the trigger gently, felt the rifle fire, heard the bullet hit the buck, and saw him drop like he had been poleaxed – all much faster than it took to read this.
Well – I was very proud
at having made such a good shot (about 125 yards; pretty good for a rookie, huh!), but I knew I kinda preferred to see the antelope still grazing to lying dead in the grass. The question also came to me, "What in the hell do I do now?"
I motioned to the family
to come to the top of the hill and announced that we had our antelope! My current mistake immediately made itself clear. My 13 year-old daughter broke into tears. I had to explain to her about the hunter taking the place of the wolf and the bear and the Indian as part of the natural control of our big game population, and so on. She was not convinced, but at least stopped crying.
My 10 year-old son
and I learned a lot about antelope anatomy, and about the disadvantages of a small, dull pocketknife in such situations.
Rather than celebrating, however,
guilt kept us looking for my buddy the rest of the evening. We drove home the next day still wondering if he was stuck somewhere in the mountains. Fortunately, he became disgusted with his fate early-on and had gone back home.
The question is –
if I get lucky and draw for antelope again some year, what will I do differently?
These titles are for sale through Idaho fish ‘n’ hunt in association with Amazon.com Books. They make perfect gifts for the holiday season ahead – or any celebration for the outdoorspeople in your life.