How much should I tell my wife? That was the question rattling around in my brain as I drove home in the middle of the night; listening to hard rock music, way too loud, in an attempt to stay awake.
In this case, I didn’t have much choice. My ever-loving Little Darling was going to know something was up when I pulled in during the wee hours of the morning. My wife is not one to mildly let the issue go before being fully satisfied that she has the story—the whole story.
Let’s just say my sweet bride doesn’t quite understand the primal urge that drives me to hunt. I can explain about the ancient and visceral connection to nature that comes from participating in the cycle of life on nature’s terms, or the challenge of pursuing and finally bringing down prey, but she still doesn’t get it. There are some guys out there (and to be fair, I’m sure there are some ladies, too) who have spouses that enjoy hunting just as much as they do, but judging by my experience it seems that such matches are far from the norm. I know one such lucky bum. He bought a double treestand this summer so that he and his girlfriend could hunt together. Now, my first thought was, “What a waste. They could hunt twice is much if they split up. It’s not like they can talk.” Well, maybe they will talk and then my buddy won’t get a deer this year. At least his girlfriend gets his hunting drive, or maybe the double stand was just a way for her to keep him captive while she talks for hours.
My adoring mate got me a locator thingy this year for Father’s Day so that when I’m up in the mountains I can push a little button to send her a pre-programmed message, “Everything’s good. Love you.” She can also check online and see a little marker on a map that shows exactly where I am. I thought Father’s Day was about me. Shows you what I know. In fact, this gift seemed like it was more for her. Kind of reminded me of one of those ‘other shoe’ situations, like when I got her a sexy nurse outfit for her birthday last year. That didn’t go over so well. On this last trip, though, I was pretty happy to have that little orange gadget. I had it turned on in my pocket, ready to push the S.O.S button so that if nothing else, search and rescue would at least know where to find what was left of my body. These are the kinds of things I don’t want to tell my already anxious wife about.
There was the time I fell in the creek on a trip in November and spent a very cold and damp night huddled in my sleeping bag—I didn’t tell her about that. There was the time a buddy and I wrapped our canoe around a rock in the river and spent several hours hiking out in the dark over the mountains to the nearest road. She knows about that one, but I didn’t tell her how cold I got when ice started forming on my wetsuit and I couldn’t feel my feet or hands anymore. Once we got to the road, the first car to come along just slowed down and drove wide around us. If my buddy hadn’t been there, I think I might have cried.
There was also the time when she asked me where the syrup was. “Uh, I don’t know, Honey,” I said. Actually, I had used the bottle of syrup for bear bait because I didn’t feel like going to the store to pick up another one. So how much should I really tell her? That I was just too lazy and now she had to do without syrup on her pancakes? No, keeping this little gem was all for my benefit and clearly fits into a different category than some of my other exploits, but the question is still the same.
I could tell her how I was hunting with my horse in a little valley back in the mountains, several miles from the nearest road. My horse was tied up and grazing contentedly. I had elk scent out and was set up close to a heavily used trail with wallows nearby; cow-calling every once in a while, waiting for a nice bull to show up and present me with a perfect broadside shot at 20 yards. I was surveying the valley when I saw a grey shape pop up out of the grass and lope towards my end of the valley. Wolf! It spotted my horse and started slinking closer. I only had a bow and pistol and was cursing myself for not bringing a rifle. This wolf was an easy rifle shot away, but I clipped my release to my bowstring and prepared to shoot anyway. My heart was racing like mad. I’ve never heard of anyone taking a wolf with a bow. A second, larger wolf appeared from the grass behind the first. When they were about 70 yards out they spotted me and skulked behind a clump of trees.
I waited and called a little more to see if the pair would come back, but after a while I saw them jogging up a trail on the other side of the valley, right past where my camp was set up in the trees. I went down to take my horse to get a drink and when I looked back I saw a wolf loping across the valley. I was a little nervous at that point and really wishing I had that rifle. It was getting close to dark and the wolves weren’t leaving. I found fresh tracks in the sand beside the stream where my mare was drinking, about the size of my palm, half the size of the largest tracks I’ve seen. Still, the relative smallness of the tracks did not put me at ease.
I prefer to hunt with a partner, and my wife makes it clear that she prefers for me to hunt with a partner as well. But opening day fell on a Tuesday and neither of my hunting buddies could hunt until the weekend, and I wasn’t going to let that keep me at home. But right then, I would have been really glad to have someone with me. I was still cursing myself for not packing a damn rifle, too. This isn’t California, after all, where you might get arrested just for carrying a sidearm during bow season. If I had brought the rifle, I’d have been notching my wolf-tag right then and feeling a bit more secure. The sun was just setting as I got back to camp and a wolf started howling in the timber, not 80 yards away from me on the hill. The call was picked up from across the valley just before a full chorus broke out all around me. I started sweating at that point and my heart rate jumped to at least triple its normal rate. It was like something straight out of a movie or a dream—a bad one. It wasn’t a pair of wolves, it was an entire pack and I couldn’t begin to count how many were howling around me. It seemed obvious the pack was just waiting for it to get dark before moving in on my horse and this valley suddenly seemed like a bad place to be at that moment.
I threw the saddle on my mare, who was surprisingly calm, and started loading up. One of the grey bastards had apparently appropriated my food bag because I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was twilight when I finally got going and I could still hear the wolves moving around, giving little barks in the timber. It was almost fully dark by the time I got to the top of the first ridge. Somehow I ended up taking the wrong elk trail, which lead me way off course. I heard an occasional howl up on the ridge behind me, as if the hunters were keeping track of my progress. I know I said that one of the things I like about hunting is participating in the cycle of life, but I didn’t mean as prey. I found myself busting through heavy brush, scrambling over deadfalls on ridiculously steep hills, towing a horse. If it weren’t for GPS, I’d probably still be back in there someplace.
There were a few times when I thought my horse was going to quit on me, but she pushed through and kept going. The horse and I were both shot by the time we got back to the truck several hours later. My muscles were cramping and threatening to shut down. I thought about staying the night and hunting early the next morning close to the trailhead, but I had nothing left except one water bottle and a little beef jerky. My feet were already blistered and there was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t be able to move in the morning. Besides, there was the horse. How was I going to take care of her? I couldn’t just leave her in the trailer while I hunted, and she wasn’t in any condition to go back out the next day.
I loaded up and headed for home, which brings me back to driving through the night with the radio cranked all the way up and wondering what I was going to tell my wife. I’ll tell her the story, but then I’ll have to reassure her that everything’s all right so that she won’t worry too much about me next time I go hunting. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll tell her how much I appreciated having that orange tracker thingy, though. She might just decide to have the thing permanently attached. Besides, I kind of liked being back to even with her after the naughty nurse outfit fiasco.