I often wonder why certain people get this uncontrollable passion to be hunters. I’m not talking about the casual hunter that gets out every few years. Nor am I referring to the “some day” crowd. I’m talking about the fanatics. The obsessed. The ones who spend all year planning, training, and finally executing during season.
I am one of these types. Are you?
My passion began the year before kindergarten. Since then, the only hunting season I have missed was because I was deployed oversea’s during my time in the Marines. I haven’t always been successful in terms of filling tags, but I try not to gauge success that way. It’s all in the experience. Tag soup sucks, but it’s better than missing hunting season!
My first hunt was in one these old tent trailers my Dad owned. In fact, he still has the dang thing. He took the tent out and uses it as a hauling trailer on his property. It had no heat, no power, just a solid tent trailer that we drug down to Southern Utah. I was four years old and remember this three day hunt to this day. Close to 35 years later.
It was a mule deer hunt. I remember turning off the highway onto a dirt road towards the mountains. In mid-October, the fall mountain colors were vivid to a child’s eye. I didn’t know at the time but the mountain was peppered with patches of pine forest and scattered aspens. I know the mountain well now. It’s a perfect display of Western landscapes. And incredible hunting.
We pulled into a camp surrounded by bright aspens and fallen leaves. As Dad set up the tent trailer, I was tasked with gathering kindling for a fire. We spent the day gearing up for the opening deer hunt in the morning. Dad zeroed his rifle from camp. I can still see myself putting my finger in the holes his old deer rifle made in a fallen log.
That night, the tent trailer was lit by a lantern that burned white gas. I climbed into a huge sleeping bag while Dad fumbled around with gear. Every move in the trailer was felt. I didn’t exactly know what deer hunting was, but I was excited for morning.
Still dark, Dad woke me up and told me to get dressed. This was back before Sitka Gear, OnX Maps, and $600 hunting packs. We wore jeans and a sweatshirt, topped with the required bright orange vest and hat. Dad and I both had hip packs, or fanny packs, I can’t quite remember what we called them. We all make fun of them now.
I stuffed a peanut butter and jam sandwich in my fanny pack and a couple of Snicker’s Bars in my pocket. We hiked out from camp, I followed Dad through the darkness as we made our way up the mountain.
One thing I am sure of; we didn’t hike that far. It was just a fraction of what I hike today. However, in my 4-year old mind, we hiked a hundred miles over several hours. Dad just kept going, reminding me to be as quiet as I can. As the sun finally put light on the mountain, we climbed over fallen trees and through open meadows.
Occasionally, we would spot some deer. Dad would put his binos to his face and look at them intently. I had never paid enough attention to know the difference between a buck or a doe.
“Just does” he would say. I would ask him why he didn’t shoot those deer. He would explain that we were looking for a buck and the does need to live to have fawns. Before anyone starts a fight about whether or not shooting a doe is okay, keep in mind that this was Utah and mule deer. General season did not allow taking a doe.
Not to get derailed, but in case you don’t know, Utah has some monster muleys. Especially in Southern Utah. These days, most of the Southern units are limited entry tags. During the time of this story, a general season tag would do just fine for most of the state. I now live in Idaho and absolutely love it, but big Utah mule deer will always be a special hunt for me.
We sat on a log and ate our sandwiches. Dad would periodically pull out some beef jerky, rip off a small piece and hand it over to me. Hence, my love of beef jerky. Jerky of any kind, for that matter. To this day, I always have jerky on the mountain. When my girls are with me, I rip off a small piece and hand it to them.
As we sat there, a man slowly made it down the mountain towards us. He was distant and appeared to be walking funny. As he got closer I realized he was not walking funny, he was dragging a deer. Him and Dad talked for a bit. I remember staring at this guy who in my mind, appeared to be dressed like a mountain man in some kind of fur coat. Probably just my subpar memory. Funny what kids remember years later.
I stared at his dead deer. I have no idea to this day if it was a 2-point or a 5-point. I only remember antlers and a man that looked like Jeremiah Johnson. He told Dad that there was another buck up there. We pursued.
For two more days we hunted this mountain. If you’re on the edge of your seat, let me save you the suspense. We did not tag out that year. We gave it hell though.
We hiked and watched deer. We made camp food at night on a Coleman stove. Dad lit huge fires that we sat around. His overcooked eggs in the morning had too much pepper on them, and I tend to cook them the same way today. The hunt was perfect.
That certainly was not the last hunt in that old tent trailer. We had many adventures in it. Including getting it stuck in a snow storm and almost having to leave it on the mountain for the winter.
Nowadays, my Dad doesn’t hunt much. But it was this trip that instilled the passion I have for hunting, specifically mule deer. It would be decades before I began serious elk hunting, but it all started with that three day hunt in Southern Utah.
It’s funny how that works. I spend thousands of dollars in hunting gear, tags, and travel. My wife despises hunting season because of the time I commit to it. This hunting lifestyle began with the very basics though. We only had a few days, wearing everyday clothes, and hunted our butts off without all this technology. This was the nature of hunting back then. There was no Facebook to post our successful hunts to. Dad had a polaroid.
My wife also hates the taste of mule deer and encourages me to hunt whitetails instead. Don’t tell her, but I do agree that the whitetails taste a little better. The problem is this; mule deer are a deep seeded hunting passion of mine that began decades ago. I am one of the few in North Idaho that knows how to find them. It wasn’t easy, but I will never stop chasing them.
That is where it all started. My hunting pursuits these days are epic adventures, sometimes deep in the backcountry, but I would not be opposed to an old fashioned deer hunt wearing a flannel with Dad. Not in the slightest. Of course, he would need to bring the jerky.
Oh and just for fun, tell us your first hunting memory in the comments!