The mountain doesn’t much give a hoot about hunters.
That’s a reminder I often give myself during these fall and early winter months when I’m spending a lot of time walking up and down mountainsides, usually carrying a shotgun. I suspect I’m in a minority on that point, but whether you’re carrying a shotgun, rifle or bow, the principle is the same: the mountain doesn’t give a hoot.
The mountains are full of hazards, any of which can trip up the hunter or hiker. Things such as tree roots or branches hiding under loose leaves are an example.
As winter comes there are new hazards. I can think of falls I’ve taken over the years simply because the ground had frozen and become slippery, or stepping on frozen moose or elk droppings that act like ball bearings on frozen ground. Snow hides hazards, and I’ve often slipped on branches and sticks hiding in the snow.
Then there are oddities such as bogs on the mountainsides. I remember one hunt when I went across a low spot and suddenly one leg went down to the top of my thigh in wet mud.
Then, of course, there are rockslides, talus slopes and other such places where it’s never safe under any weather condition.
Again, it’s not that the mountain is out to get you; it just doesn’t give a hoot about mere people, or animals, for that matter. The mountain has been there for millions of years and will be there millions of years after we’re gone. If visitors do something foolish and get hurt, the incident won’t even register as a blip in the history of the mountain.
Then there are the water hazards.
On my last hunt I spent a pleasant few hours looking for ruffed grouse. I didn’t find any that day, but that didn’t detract from the outing. Flicka, my Labrador retriever, and I were poking our way up an aspen-covered hillside when Flicka suddenly stopped, then started growling and barking. About 40 feet down the hillside a pair of moose, a bull and cow, got up and went trotting off through the trees. I wish I had reacted quicker as the bull was sporting one of the heavier sets of antlers I’ve seen in several years, and I would have loved to get a photo of him.
I’ve often seen moose in this area. It’s good moose habitat, with aspens, brush thickets, and water. On one hillside there are springs that emerge from the ground and flow down to a creek at the bottom of the hill. The springs nurture a thick bed of watercress. I don’t know if moose like to eat watercress, though they certainly like having an all-season source of fresh water. For my part, I do like to eat watercress and I carry a plastic bag with me when I hunt the area so I can bring home a watercress salad.
When Flicka and I had pretty much exhausted our possibilities we headed back to the truck. Remember that creek? To get back to where I parked I have to cross this little creek. I’ve crossed it dozens of times over the years without incident. This time, however, to avoid getting my boots wet I elected to step on stones to get across.
Stepping-stones are unreliable, however. My boot slipped on one and I made an ungraceful water entry. I went to my knees and got soaked to the waist in icy water. One knee cracked up against a rock. Worst of all, my shotgun hit the same rock, and if my knee picked up an abrasion, the stock of the gun picked up some nasty gouges.
I gave up any thoughts I had about checking another hunting spot in favor of getting home as soon as possible and changing into dry clothes.
My knee, happily, just had a shallow scrape. The shotgun needed a good session with sanding, stain and refinishing. The afternoon’s hunt was a good reminder about the hazards of a fall hike.
And the mountain? It didn’t give a hoot.