Meridian Star


July 5, 2014

Contemplating July 4

MERIDIAN — Freedom means many things to many people. And we are seeing erosion of some historical freedoms. But we are still free to get into a vehicle, drive to a distant outdoor recreational area and hunt, fish, hike, camp, photograph, watch birds and enjoy other outdoor pursuits. Yes, some of these outings can be expensive considering licenses, travel costs and trespass fees, but we are free to participate.

    Thankfully all of the noted activities can be practiced with no entry fees on public lands. This is very noticeable on the huge tracts of public land in the mountain west. In Colorado alone, there are 26 million acres of mine and your lands in the finest game and fish habitat in the nation. This does not include miles and miles of state owned land there where we can hunt. With appropriate licenses and honoring game and fish seasons that protect the species, we can participate for free.

    If you are one of thousands who have always wanted to make a mountain trip to do some of the things mentioned above, set a time, save up a few bucks and make the trip. You will never regret it. If it is a big game hunt you covet, read up on hunting at your destination, try to go with someone who has hunted there before or at least talk with those who have experience. Guides and outfitters should be hired with caution, which means checking references, costs etc.

    But here we are considering self guided hunts, the kind with which I have experience; bare bones trips. For me, hunts made from Mississippi meant sleeping in the bed of my covered pickup on the road to the mountains and taking perishable food and drink from home to save motel and restaurant costs. My biggest costs have been fuel and licenses. For a first hunt you can likely borrow many items such as topographical maps, a hand held GPS unit, camping tent, day pack, back pack and other items you might not have for your Deep South hunting.

    Take a compass and a spare. Tie them on long strings that can loop around your belt. Never, never, ever walk even 100 yards from your camp or vehicle without your compass. Leave your pants. Leave your gun. But never leave your compass. I have written about the reasons on this page. But if you are one who could never get lost and consider it an insult that you might could get disoriented in any woods on earth and you do not need a compass, then join a bridge club and do not make a mountain hunt. If your ego gets in the way here, call me before planning a hunt.

    Now, with that life and death matter covered, here is the fun part. The scenery will take your breath (and so will the scarce oxygen by the way.) A screaming bull elk will attach you for ever to the aspens and firs and sagebrush where they live. The forked antlers of a mule deer buck moving through an oakbrush slope will draw you back there, even if in your mind, again and again.

    My first mountain hunt was for elk with two buddies in snowy mountains near Chama, New Mexico. Sixty inches of snow fell the week we were there; on top of a hundred inches already on the ground. (This was a December hunt.) I went well prepared and was the only one getting an elk. This led to years of mountain hunting, even seven years living in Colorado and regular mountain hunts ever since.

    The wonder of the mountains permanently infused my senses. Autumns there are among my fondest memories. A simultaneous respect for mountain vastness and weather has evolved into an intrinsic caution. I offer a motto to you. A mountain can thrill you and kill you. If you seek adventure, the mountains offer it in spades.

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