Jeff Hammer: Late Summer Musings

(Started on September 8.) What happened to our summer? It’s like I woke up this morning, and suddenly it’s September. The weather just doesn’t feel like September. As has happened during the past several days, I woke up to slightly cool mornings, and then by late afternoon, the temperature reaches the mid 90’s. That should just not happen during this month, but according to the weather person, the daytime temperatures should come down to a more reasonable 65 degrees or so by this weekend and the nighttime temps should be in the low 40’s. Sweet relief.

Generally, by now I would have been consumed with getting ready to go upland game bird hunting and big game hunting. I would have my hunting backpack packed with all the tools needed for a successful big game hunt, my knives would be sharp and the lenses on my binoculars and rifle scope would be clean. Several boxes of ammunition would be loaded with an accurate load and my rifle would be sighted in, but I just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to seriously think about those activities yet when the heat threatens to set my gray hair on fire, or so it feels when I go outside in the afternoons to water my tomato plants.

Most often, by this date, I would have been mountain grouse hunting at least a couple of times to sweet spots I won’t mention to anyone, except in general terms. Yep, I’m that way. As Harold O’Malley, my one time survey crew chief used to say, “Only idiots tell other people of their favorite hunting spots,” and he said this right after I informed him where I had recently killed a nice (by my standards) mule deer buck. 

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Like most members of my father’s generation, one always knew where Harold stood on any given topic. In his (and my father’s) view, learning a lesson was more important than bruised feelings, which also explains why I could never entice him to tell me where he and his Brittnay spaniel, Pete, would always score a limit of blue grouse “somewhere” near Limestone Mountain. 

He took that information with him to his grave, God rest his tight-lipped soul. Harold clocked out one winter evening while tending to his beloved horses on his small ranch on Trout Creek, west of Fort Washakie, the victim of a stroke. Gone too soon, but a fitting end, in my opinion, to the life of a man who loved horses and dogs.

The gods of chance have played their usual game of frustration and disappointment again this year with respect to my quest to obtain an “ANY” antelope license for an area not far from my doorstep. Earlier this spring, I applied for two antelope licenses and one deer license. Two of the three licenses seemed like “gimmes,” based on past draw results, but I only received a doe/fawn antelope license for Area 65, a permit targeted, I’m sure, to rid private land of many of the alfalfa-eating speedsters north of the Little Popo Agie River. Contrast that result with that of one of my former teaching colleagues, who scored a total of six, that’s right SIX, limited quota licenses: three deer licenses and three antelope licenses. With good fortune like that, he should try his luck at the Shoshone Rose Casino, which would be an easy bike ride from his abode on North Fork Road. Arrive on a bike and leave in a BRAND NEW CAR! I guess he won’t though, as teachers know, from the school of hard knocks, when not to press their luck.

One of the reasons I have hesitated in the past to apply for licenses close to town is that I don’t feel comfortable asking for permission to hunt on private land. I would much rather hunt public land for that and other reasons, but my opportunity to hunt antelope this year rests on the good graces of private landowners; so a day ago I took a ride south of town and talked to a couple who own a small ranch at the base of Table Mountain, and they graciously gave me permission to their property, but the lady of the estate cautioned, “We haven’t seen many antelope lately.” Well, I only need one.

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From there, I ventured up Willow Creek Road, as according to a land ownership map, Bureau of Land Management land can be accessed from that road, but after scoping that section out, I would need climbing ropes to ascend a sandstone cliff, just for starters; and the terrain did not really look like feasible antelope habitat anyway.

On my way back to the U.S. Highway 287, I encountered a couple of pieces of haying equipment working a huge alfalfa field, and decided that if I asked their operators about who I should ask permission, the worst that could happen would be that I would be told “no.” I don’t have a problem with that outcome, as long as there is no shouting. So, I entered the field through an open gate and parked next to a separate piece of equipment not being used. After exiting my pickup, I trudged across the alfalfa stubble toward the moving equipment, all the while not hopeful at all that the outcome of this situation would be positive. 

Part way to my destination, one of the operators must have spied my approach because the piece of equipment that looked like a forklift, but with huge rubber tires, veered away from its task and headed in my direction. Dreading the next few minutes, I waited for its arrival. When the forklift came to a dusty stop before me, its operator opened the cab, leaned out, and pleasantly asked, “What can I do for you?”

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What? No yelling, no threatening to have me arrested for trespassing. Just a pleasant “What can I do for you?”

Surprised, for a second I had a hard time finding my voice, but eventually I introduced myself and asked, “If I wanted to ask permission to hunt this land, who would I talk to?”

“That would be me,” he offered. He reached into a shirt pocket and retrieved a cell phone. “Call my number so that you have it in your phone,” he continued, “and then call me later tonight, and we can work something out.” He offered me his cell number, which I called, and when his phone rang, he punched off the call and put it back in his pocket. 

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“Looks like we’re set,” he continued. I offered my thanks and turned back toward my truck, my mind reeling somewhat at what had just transpired. Wow, I thought, that was simple and relatively painless, and that guy (he didn’t even mention his name) was pleasant. 

And I did call him later that night, and we did work something out with me having secured two hunting days toward the end of September, and possibly more if “those don’t work out for you.” With a season that lasts until November 7th, maybe I’m golden for an antelope this year, for a change; so thanks, Jim; and I also want to thank Amy and Tim for being willing to grant access to their land, as well.

(Continued on September 13) Speaking of gold, my wife and I spent the weekend at The Falls Campground above Dubois enjoying afternoons of sunny delight, with temperatures in the mid 60’s and cool sunrises during which we walked the campground loops, coffee in our gloved hands greeting other campers and engaging a few in conversation. 

On Sunday morning, we encountered one gray-bearded gent, about my age, who had been regulated to chief cook and bottlewasher at his party’s campsite following his successful hunt for a mule deer buck. A state worker from Wisconsin, he was using his three week vacation traveling to and spending time in a state for which many of its residents take that privilege for granted. 

“Maybe I’ll go fishing today,” he said, smiling. “Brooks Lake isn’t far, and I brought a spin rod and a couple of lures.” Parked nearby was a four-wheeler. When I asked about his hunting partners, he smiled and informed us that they were retired, and not worried about returning home any time soon. I don’t think he was either. He still had two weeks of vacation left.

He was thoroughly enjoying his time in Wyoming, which is a message that my wife and I have heard multiple times this summer from out-of-staters wherever we have been. Just the morning before, as we were doing our morning coffee walk along the access road toward the highway, before our day hike loop above Brooks Lake, an older out-of-state couple driving a small SUV and pulling an equally small camper trailer pulled up beside us, smiling broadly and offered us this compliment about Wyoming: “You sure have a nice clean state. Thank you.”

Yes, we do, and most of us don’t mind sharing. Just don’t ask me to reveal my favorite hunting spots.

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