Hunting Lite

Hunting Lite

My wife says she wants elk. Roast, burger, ribs. Does she remember the time we had an antelope hanging in our basement? She choked on the smell, wafts of which penetrated concrete, backfill, air, and our neighbors’ walls. I delayed skinning the carcass and butchering it, certain that each forkful at some future supper would contain hairs, hairs that are a cross between the quills of a porcupine and the hair of a Jack Russell Terrier.

This season my wife speaks not of antelope; it’s elk she wants. She seems to think that killing one, and bringing it home, will be easy, just slightly harder than driving to Albertsons and selecting from the meat counter. Hunting elk may be easy for some. But she has to admit that a ten year’s absence from the craft has left me rusty.

Rust was what I feared to find in my rifle barrel. My employee, Paul, told me where to buy, and how to use, a rifle cleaning kit. He is avid. He is the kind of guy that if it weren’t for his primal desire for heat and light, i.e. a house mortgage, would spend all his time satisfying the other primal desire, the taste for wild game.

His advice rang like the 11th commandment. I bought the kit, brushed the barrel, oiled the magazine. My father, Hunter Lite, Sr., never insisted on a clean barrel. But Melani does not care about my past, only my prospects. That I and my father never cleaned our guns holds no interest. She needs me to rise to the chance, do my best, clean my barrel. I can change; she needs elk.

The day I bought the kit I also bought long plastic gloves for gutting the imaginary downed elk, targets, a folding bone saw, my first Buck knife, and an orange vest. The target proved out, the vest did not. The knife and saw are yet untested.

I risked a drive to the top of Olson Creek Road, planning to sight-in my 7mm there. As the road ascended, balmy fall gave way to true winter: icy rutted roads, drifts, a wind that cut. I had thought I would use the rusted hood of my ’63 Chevy for a shooting rest, as Paul had instructed, and as a young couple was doing with the hood of their Subaru. Then I predicted that if I drove down to their level, I would there remain in the  snow until May. AAA has exclusions for places like Olson Creek. I did not go down.

My sighting-in exercise was thus hampered from the start. I squeezed the orange vest over my bulky parka. It was sized for a youth, to be worn outside clothing that might be worn in fair weather. It was tight, like a Speedo on a polar bear. I hoped the young couple would not mistake me for the pumpkin they used for one of their targets.

I placed my targets, laid out a tarp, sat down, rested the rifle arm on one knee and fired three times. I trudged to the target and felt surprise at what I saw, so much so that I checked the young couple to be certain they were not using my good targets. They were not. I had shot a tight group of hits.

At this point, I was to run a swab down the barrel with a rod, Paul said, so that the powder in the barrel would not ruin my next shots. This advice seemed to be beyond what was needed, so I chose otherwise, excusing myself because of the wind and my father’s example.

For the next ten shots, my aim of former years returned, which is one way of saying that I barely marred the roomy box upon which I had stuck the targets. The next, final shots were again a close enough group to define a pattern. I concluded that any error in the mounting of the lens of the gun was paltry compared to my own proneness to error. Besides, I was cold. By Hunter Lite standards, I was ready to hunt elk.

Area 313, Goose Creek, is either-sex this year. In all my years, I had to forego cows, always had to look and pray for a bull. So the mere fact the area was called either-sex hinted of an abundance of elk. Surely hunting there would be like standing at the fence of an Iowa feed lot. You would pick a choice animal and simply shoot it.

Mike Jones and I drove there. By now I had returned the Barbie vest and purchased two new huge vests, each big enough for the biggest possible hunter, in the warmest possible clothes. I also got two orange hats, to keep other hurried hunters from aiming at our heads.

I drove in my ’63 Chev to the parking lot as high as any truck is allowed go in Goose Creek. Faithless Mike drove his S-10 Blazer. We walked. We were careless about the sounds our voices made, because the ice cracking under our feet made such caution moot. We walked and walked. There was very little to see except the great outdoors. There were a few deer tracks, nowhere near as many as you would find near our home in Bozeman. There were no elk tracks. One moose track. The area was not exactly teeming.

We enjoyed the mild day, and talked about life as we walked. We returned to the parking area where I took the bullets out of the rifle chamber. I got in the truck and ate my granola bar and apple, honoring the teachings of my father, except that in former days we ate a candy bar.

That was pretty much the sum of things. A nice walk with a good friend. No killing. No elk. Am I always looking in the wrong places?

I now call hunting, “Walking with Firearms”.

I hope Melani praises the effort. In addition to elk she likes salmon. Maybe a stop at the fish market on my way home would be a good idea.

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