Hunting Into The Golden Years (And Then Some)
November 25, 2014
Once again, it’s a busy week, winding down to the Thanksgiving holidays (for folks who get paid holidays), and I’ve been a bit short on topics on which to expound. So I’ll steal a thread from Dave Petzal over at Field and Stream’s Gun Nuts blog.
On the blog, Petzal waxes a bit poetic about how those of us who are serious hunters will continue to hunt as long as we can make our way into the field. I’m still several good, long steps behind Mr. Petzal on the stroll into geezerhood, so I can’t write (as Petzal does) from my own perspective. But I’ve seen some things.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of hunting with a friend I met via America On-Line (AOL). Reverend Roy and his family made an annual trek up into the Adirondacks during muzzleloading deer season, and he invited me to join the party. They hunt an area called the “Forever Wild”, which is a section of the forest that has been designated wilderness since 1894. In this wildest section of the “howling wilderness”, motorized conveyances and equipment are prohibited. There are no bicycles or chainsaws, and certainly no four-wheelers or dirt bikes. The designated hiking trails are cleared by hand tools, and stepping off of the trail is an adventure in true wilderness. I could go on, and on about the Forever Wild area, but that’s not what we’re here for.
So I met up with Reverend Roy, as well as his brothers and nephews. Also along on the trip, and fresh out of knee replacement surgery, was Roy’s father. I can’t remember his age at the time, but he was well past seven decades. Everyone allotted the tough old fellow a fair share of deference, but there was ample concern regarding his ability to hunt the rugged and mountainous terrain. As we loaded the boat to take us across Long Lake, to the hunting area, I was a bit taken aback by his agility (relative, of course, but still…).
The demonstration at the boat ramp, however, was nothing compared to what I witnessed the following morning, as the hunt began.
Eager as I was, just before light I set out up the trail, climbing steadily up the steep mountainside. I figured I’d go ahead and cover some ground to get out where few people trod. I don’t know how long I’d been going, but I’d expended a pretty good portion of my energy when I finally spotted some fresh sign, and cut away from the main trail into the forest. I hunted the day away, and after some misadventures (those hemlock swamps are dark and disorienting… and my compass decided to demagnetize itself), I eventually stumbled back out onto the main trail, just above where I’d gone in. There, right beside my laboring tracks, were the impressions of two boots and a walking stick. Roy’s dad had gone on past me, climbing even further up the mountain… new knees and all!
Years later, I was impressed again by a geriatric gentleman in the Los Padres mountains in California. It was my first guided hunt. Being of relatively modest means at the time, I couldn’t really afford a full-priced hunt. I’d discussed my situation with the guide, William, and he decided to discount my hunt if I was willing to tag along with another client. This client was 78 years old, so William was pretty sure his hunt would be a short one. There is very little level ground in California’s central coast, and the area we’d be hunting started off rugged and then got worse. William told me that once the old guy wore out, he and I could focus on a good, wilderness hunt.
Base camp was just above the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), overlooking the ocean. From camp, the only way to go was up. William told me to give him and his hunter about an hour head start, and then come up behind them. I would sweep off the sides of the trail on the way up, and he figured that I’d probably catch up to them fairly soon. I climbed and sweated, and after a couple of false starts on does and a spike buck (not legal in CA), I kept expecting to run into the little party at any moment, around the next bend. But all I saw were tracks, doggedly climbing upward.
Finally, I topped out the ridgeline. I don’t recall how many feet I’d gained in elevation, but they were many and steep. I began to wonder if I had somehow passed William and his client off the trail, but as I topped a rise I was drawn up short by a whistle. William waved me over to where he and the client were resting comfortably on a big boulder, munching sandwiches and apparently happy and comfortable as could be. William shot me a puzzled look and nodded, respectfully, at the old guy.
Amazing. Never underestimate a hunter’s desire, even when the years have wreaked their havoc.
As I begin my own slide toward my latter years, I think about these guys and others like them. When my back aches as I consider another steep canyon, or my joints throb in the freezing air of a pre-dawn campsite, I start to wonder how many more of these experiences are left to me. I know they’re limited now, and I have to sometimes stop and remember to count every single one as a blessing.