April 2021 - 46

WILD COUNTRY DISPATCH

The hunting life
Story by Tom Reed | Illustration by L. Eslick

T

he modern hunter's spirit is suspended between
reflection and
anticipation. This is the state
of mental transportation back
through gray matter to a real
moment of an autumn passed,
or a conceptual, imaginary
conduction to a future both
unknown and unknowable.
Spring in the Rockies - mud season -
brings me here in full force, an abeyance
between what was last season and what can
be the next. It is here, I think, where this
hunter spends his life more so than in Ortega
y Gasset's famous hunter's life phases from
shooter to sportsman. It is here where I find
myself as I fill out applications for next fall's
hunt while at the same time remembering
last year's field time. It is a good place to be
and one that has propelled me throughout
my life as a sportsman. Yes, there are phases
of the hunter - shooter, bag limiter, trophy
taker, method changer, and sportsman -
that can parallel an outdoor life. But one can
experience all phases in one year or even one
hunt. Indeed, I find the suspension between
reminiscence and expectation more often my
abode.
There was a time when there was no hunt
to be remembered. There was only a boy who
looked forward, who bought his first rifle with
snow-shoveling money, who spent late nights
studying for the hunter safety exam, who practiced raising that empty rifle to shoulder and
the scope to eye just to feel natural and fluid
with a new tool. There was only anticipation
46 | April 2021	

and nothing other than BB-gunned hapless
small critters to look back upon. Fourteen
long years of bubbling expectancy.
In quiet moments before that very first
dawn of the hunt, there was the blaze of a
hearth's fire. It gleamed and wavered across
pine walls. It hypnotized, mesmerized. Long
before first shooting light, watching the pine
burn and pop in the stone fireplace, listening
for my grandmother in her ranch kitchen
clattering about, waiting for the smell of bacon
frying.
Opening morning. There had been no
sleep. Only anticipation that I can still feel
in my core 45 years later, the same feeling that
pulled me from my warm bed in the darkness
this past November to take a cold predawn
walk by the light of a headlamp.
The eager call of a new day's hunt led me to
my tree stand beside a small stream that talked
to me in the darkness. I snuggled deep into
my wool jacket and cradled my favorite rifle, a
Browning 1895, in my gloves. I thought about
the game I'd taken with this rifle over the years
- two elk from one herd high on the shoulder
near timberline in the Wind River Range, just
one of the memories flashing through my core.
I thought about how I loved to shoot the rifle,
its accuracy compensating for its heft. Here
was the sportsman's legendary " shooter phase "
of which much has been written.
As the stream chatted away in the dark
predawn at my back, I thought about how
I'd like to put a deer in the freezer, maybe a
doe, and how important that would be for
my family. We needed the meat. Here was
the bag limit phase.
The moonlight sent my shadow out into
the cottonwood forest and I remembered a
big buck I had seen in July. I will hold out
for him, I'd like to shoot a big buck, I've got
that place above my office desk saved for him, "
said the trophy hunter phase.
The light began to rise and I heard, then

saw, a doe rustling through the autumn's leaves
just below. She stopped beneath my tree stand,
far too close for my seven mag and my mind
switched gears. A bow. How fun would that
be, to shoot a deer out of this tree stand with
my bow? The method phase.
Finally, as good shooting light at last
arrived, another doe came into the meadow
and stood broadside to me at 50 yards,
smelling the west wind, her nose quivering.
A thought: This is a can't miss shot, but I
don't want to screw up a perfectly good hunt
by killing something. I'd like to be out here
tomorrow morning. I'll let her go. And I did.
And there was the last phase of which Ortega
wrote. All five phases in one morning's hunt.
The light changed from crepuscular to
bright and the deer left the meadow before my
stand. I opened the rifle's action and pocketed
the cold brass from the chamber and lowered
myself slowly and quietly to the forest floor. I
stood and stretched kinked knees, slung the
rifle on a shoulder, and walked home. Tomorrow, I thought, maybe that big buck will come
out into the field and stand broadside as the
doe had and perhaps my crosshairs will find
his chest and I'll get a chance to squeeze the
trigger on my favorite rifle. Perhaps I will
and perhaps I'll let him go, let him go forth
and multiply and bring his genetics to the
white-tailed deer that run up and down the
river bottom and eat my horse hay all winter
long. I hope I can sleep tonight. Tomorrow
is another day.
- Tom Reed contemplates hunting during mud season
and all other seasons from a desk surrounded by the trophies of a lifetime of hunting public land from Arizona to
Alaska. There is a computer on and applications for next
season's hunt to fill out. Find Tom's books such as Give
Me Mountains For My Horses in the Game and Fish Store.
- Lori Eslick is an illustrator, artist, presenter, children's
picture book illustrator, author and workshop leader.
She regularly creates illustrations for Wyoming Wildlife
magazine's Wild Country Dispatch column. More of her
work can be seen at eslickart.com.


http://www.eslickart.com

April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of April 2021

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