Big game season is over for 2013. The final tally: 1 deer, 1 turkey, a bunch of smaller stuff, and many good days in the field.
For Thanksgiving, and a last attempt on elk, M and I headed east for the plains along the foot of the Bob Marshall. Well into the first day out amongst the limber pines we were following a thread of a game trail up a steep hill when I saw a white dot ahead of us. A snowshoe hare. It took three attempts to get M’s attention. It just seemed like common courtesy to ask her if she minded me shooting it, before I took a seat, set the Kimber on the top of the Paradox Evolution (which works very well as a rest), and blew the hares head off at 20 yards.
Hunting is killing, and attempts to camouflage that with words like “harvest” distract from the gory horror. A .308 is not an ideal small game tool, as evidenced by the spray of brains shown above, and by the spectacular autonomic nervous response which followed the shot. The hare jerked and spasmed violently, catapulting itself down the steep hill. I racked another round and took off after it, worried that I had only nicked it, but loath to shoot it again given it’s insistence on flopping around. I caught up it 50 yards downhill, noting with grim fascination that the lack of a head was not stopping the creature from making quite a bit of progress. The ears where only attached to the body with a thin rope of fur and flesh, but even so the hare kept kicking for a good thirty seconds post supersonic decapitation.
The snowshoe hare is a fascinating creature, and not one we see very often on the Pacific side of the divide. The huge feet stay white even in summer, and as we saw hours later while stalking a second one, on snow the white fur is almost invisible. We got lucky with the second one, after spooking him out of two bushes I got wise and circled around, and was able to take my time with a rest on the pack and shoot it in the head at 30 yards while it was sitting under a tree watching its back trail.
Butchering the two hares revealed an impressive physique, with proportionally huge back legs strung through with big tendons, and supported by enormous tenderloins. The two hares made a big pot of stew, which we’re serving friends tonight.
And that is why hunting took me so strongly this fall: it forces you into a whole new way of knowing the landscape. Uncomfortable details included.
My first goal with hunting was to learn a lot. This was easily accomplished just by getting out a bunch, and struggling through all the ups and downs. My second goal, the fervor of which I did not realize until recently, was to shoot a big game animal out in the backcountry of the Bob and haul it home under my own power. I had my chance with that bear back in the beginning of October, and failed to take advantage of it. Enthusiasm for anything else has damped the ardor with which I’ve pursued more accessible locales in recent weeks. That goal goes unmet, and plans are already flying through my mind for next year.
My third goal was to put meat in the freezer, and eating the whitetail I shot earlier this month was been immensely satisfying. I’m a bit sad I don’t have more meat on hand, but hunting should provide a life’s worth of learning and the first year shouldn’t come too easily. I leave this season with lots of doubts and questions about things I could have done differently. I also leave it with a few certainties: I’ll be hunting every fall for many years to come, and next year you’ll find me somewhere deep in the Bob mid-September, ready to shoot an elk with a rifle an appalling distance from the trailhead, with 100% fitness ready to do what needs to be done.
Top to bottom: Kimber Montana in .308 with 20″ barrel and 4x Leupold; H&R Superlight Handi-rifle in .243 with adult sized stock and 2.5x Leupold; Remington 700 in .30-06 with 3-9x Leupold.
I had a lot of fun shooting rifles this year, and after a few equipment upgrades a lot of fun carrying them, too. I started with the Remington, which at 7.5 pounds empty is too heavy. Worse, the long barrel and general forward heavy nature make it pack heavier than it is. Current plans are to put an even heavier, solid synthetic or laminate stock on it and keep it as a target rifle. The H&R is a great option, and as pictured much cheaper than the other two. I like the aesthetic of a singleshot, but the practicality of having a few extra round in the magazine of a bolt-action is hard to argue with. The H&R is nice and short, and over a pound lighter than the Remington. The Kimber is purpose built for backcountry hunting, and it shows. It is almost a pound lighter than the H&R as shown, and has a solid feel and great balance. I like shooting it the most of the three, by far. The stock design mitigates recoil such that the difference between the Kimber and Remington seems negligible in this regard. My only issue thus far has been a few feeding issues stemming from not seating every round all the way to the back on the blind magazine. I might get the barrel cut down a bit more, and might paint the stock; otherwise it is quite perfect.
Of course, both the deer and turkey were shot with my Citori, the gun I used the most this year by a wide margin.
Other gear notes for backcountry hunting focus around the need for more warmth when glassing or stalking around slowly. My normal trail shoes worked fine in the early season, and helped keep me stealthy. I do think that had I needed to pack something out my feet would have gotten tired. Ounce the snow flew I wanted the warmth of a waterproof boot and tall gaiters. My BD Frontpoint gaiters have proven an excellent alternative to baggy OR gaiters, and they get full marks. My LaSportiva Boulder X mids got the nod because they were the only well fitting, non-ski boots I had. They hike well in rough terrrain, but the toebox is a bit narrow to be as warm as I wanted. On the shopping list; lightish waterproof mid-height boots with enough room for VBL socks.
Clothing was on a rotating schedule with most items doing just fine. The Wild Things Tactical pants were a particular favorite, layered over fleece tights of various weights the combo provided a quick-drying setup with enough weather resistance and good temperature regulation. For glassing and waiting around in the cold nothing beats the wilderness serape, a mandatory item even if the weight and bulk don’t look good on paper. Lastly capilene 4 continued to prove itself in cool to cold conditions, both the hoody and (shown above) the beanie.
In conclusion: only four and half months until spring bear opens!
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