By Bill Sniffin
One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now. We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.
Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition. It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.
The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.
Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.
Oh yeah, and cards. Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.
Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?
There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming. But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard.
Sometimes these old veterans are just tired. Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.
Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.
A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.
Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.
Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters. Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.
In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.
Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still. Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass. And yours, too?
A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion. Yikes.
A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.
Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.
A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react. After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.
Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused. He wisely let it lope off. Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.
“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”
That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest. Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.
One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.
A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.
When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head. It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.
Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”
That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.