Snapshots from camp
In just one hunting season, you would be surprised how many of our clients are a physical disaster. The only time they get any physical exercise is walking from their car back home at night.
They are overweight and probably a little lazy. Then, they decide to go on a big-game hunt!
They pack about four times too much gear and take every conceivable thing except the kitchen sink. They rarely dress properly and do not bring a warm sleeping bag, disregarding the list they had been sent of things to bring for their own comfort.
Of course, there are those who arrive a day or two early and give their guide a call, or better yet, go out to his place visiting and getting to know their guide.
After a couple of days of this, the guide has really gotten to know the fella and is wondering about spending another five days with him in the field.
The setting up of a good camp takes weeks. Hay and grain have to be hauled in for the horses, corrals built, then the horses have to hauled in and then trailed several miles to camp.
At last, the big day arrives. We meet the prospective hunters, some an hour or two late. Probably forgot all about the time change.
Each one usually has two or three duffle bags besides a sleeping bag and a rifle or two and, oh yes, that expensive camera equipment, can’t forget that!
So, now you wait while they sort through and decide what to take and what to leave.
You should have been on the way by 8 a.m., and here it is, already 10 o’clock.
Our camp is a four-wheel-drive camp, so we all have pretty good traveling. The last 10 miles were pretty rough going (and) took about an hour, and we’re all hungry. Wonder what’s for lunch?
Camp at last, and it looks like tent city.
We use large tents. We have two wood-burning stoves in each tent, sometimes cots to sleep on and sometimes straw. Each hunter is assigned a bed and given time to settle in while the cook (that’s me) gets with it.
Years in a hunting camp have taught me something. Stew was prepared ahead of time, as being late seems to be a part of the game.
Everyone (help, hunters and all) is called to the cook tent, and the camp rules are gone over: hunting safety; proper dressing and tagging of game; booze and what we can expect from the hunters; and what the hunters can expect from us.
Then comes the fun part, matching the man to the horse. What horse can carry 250 or 300 pounds of human flesh? Have we got a saddle big enough?
(After dinner) is a lull session for the hunters but work for everyone else. Chores to get done and things to get in order for the night.
It’s all done in pretty good time. It’s only 10, but 2:30 or 3 a.m. does come early, best hit the hay.
Hope the horses don’t get restless and stomp around all night and keep us awake.
About 2:30 a.m. it’s time to get going. One person goes to each tent, builds a fire and lights the lantern, so the hunters can get up to a nice warm tent.
Others are out feeding and caring for the horses and, of course, I’m seeing that breakfast is on the way. It’s hard to guess how much people eat.
The horses and guides are waiting. The hunter is still trying to decide which gun to take, sure paid a lot of money for them, sure hope they don’t get scratched. Makes you wonder if they came to show off their expensive rifles and equipment or really came to have fun and to hunt.
Out in the field, the guide sets the hunters on a stand, cautions him to be quiet, not to smoke (game can smell cigarette smoke a long way off) and stresses that the hunter stay on his stand and not to go off by himself.
Sounds like a war on top. Sure hope all the hunters get good shooting. We should be hearing from a guide pretty soon.
To keep the hunt organized we use a two-way radio. As luck would have it, chores have to wait; they just called and the pack horses have to be ready in 30 minutes.
One of the guides will be down to get them. Sounds good, we got some meat down, got some happy hunters tonight.
Suddenly, someone says, “The horses are coming in.”
This means get moving! Everyone in camp goes to help with unsaddling, hanging meat and caring for the horses.
The meat sometimes has to be skinned, hides and heads salted for the taxidermist, and a bunch of hungry hunters have to be fed. At the supper table the talk begins about who shot what and where, who missed and why.
Someone didn’t sight his rifle in at the range as had been suggested by the guide. Someone couldn’t get the scope cap off, and on it goes.
The hunters usually eat better at hunting camp than at home. We serve turkey and dressing, ham, baron of beef, right down to plain ol’ chili.
We also have home-baked breads and pastries.
Looking around, there’s a hunter and a guide missing. After asking a few questions, it becomes apparent that one of the hunters didn’t stay where he was put on a stand, so the guide is still trying to locate him before nightfall.
Darkness is coming on, and here comes the guide and hunter. Seems the hunter decided he could walk back to camp and got turned around, so instead of being the first to camp, he was the last.
And cold and scared, besides.
The hunters who got their game the first day stay in camp just to enjoy sleeping in and not having to go out in the snow and cold. They usually enjoy helping around camp and soon get an insight into the work, the worry and the frustration that the guides and help feel, the hope we have that each hunter will get his game and the disappointment we feel, along with him, when he doesn’t.
The snow is falling and what a beautiful sight. We need some new snow, so the hunting will be better, even if it does mean that last 10 miles of road will be bad and it will take us longer going out.
Then it’s time for this group of hunters to go out and a new group to come in.
With each new group it’s always the same, yet different. The same roads, the same problems with gear and another meeting.
At the end of each hunt, we have some wiser and better hunters. They have done things that they never dreamed they could, saw country that is breathtakingly beautiful and had one very enjoyable hunting trip, whether they got their game.
They leave understanding what it is like to live out and compete with the elements and enjoy it. They also leave with new friends they have made among their hunting buddies and guides.
When the season is over, it is no rest for the guides nor for the help. The camp has to be moved before more snow falls and we get snowed in. By now the roads are really bad, and it is winching from one mud hole to another just to get out.
The tents are wet and heavy and just miserable to handle. It is cold, and the temperature sometimes drops to zero and below.
At two o’clock in the morning you are winching out of that last mud hole, cold, wet and hungry, and you wonder why in the hell you ever chose this profession.
After about a week’s rest, you can hardly wait to start it all over again.