For the love of stalking prey | AspenTimes.com

For the love of stalking prey

Tony Vagneur

The world turns in various ways, sometimes even stranger than fiction, and for seven or eight years, I have been an official volunteer for the White River National Forest Service. We have an unusual alliance, the government and I, which is to say they have found a niche for me which fits both our hands like gloves.In the autumn, a major portion of my time is spent overseeing the big-game hunters and their camps in the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park area. It’s a 30,000-acre territory, covered on horseback. Since I’m not undercover, it can be discussed here, but it isn’t about the government, anyway. It’s the hunters that keep rolling through my thoughts. My family has been hunting the Woody Creek area since the 1880’s, so we know the territory reasonably well. As a kid, I could hardly wait to head out with my dad and participate in what was perceived to be a ritual of manhood. The quest for large animals came to me naturally, and there were some very good years, many of them with my ol’ buddy, Roy Holloway, high upon the rugged terrain behind our ranch.I can’t say when I soured on it, but it came around the time I began helping my cousin Wayne watch herd over paying guests at a high camp on the mountain. It all came to a head when a dependent client, nicknamed Bull (a big guy well-over 300 pounds, who had already roused my ire for his continual verbal abuse of the horse he was riding), mouthed off at the wrong time. The horse had been exemplary in my book for carrying Bull’s larded backside up and down the steep hills with little complaint, so it didn’t take much to reach my limit with this behemoth of a man. He was lying in his upper bunk – a position he held at all times unless he was out in the field hunting – with a six-pack, watching me prepare dinner for five or six. With a flash of brilliance that only the truly mindless can display, he wondered aloud how someone as clumsy as me with a knife could keep from losing his fingers. With a rather sudden flash of my own, I had Bull’s hair in one hand, my kitchen knife in the other, dancing it inches under his nose, explaining to Bull that life was a fleeting thing for fat men with big mouths. He left the next day.With memories like that in mind, I reluctantly began my government-sponsored voyage into the world of orange-clad enthusiasts who tote high-powered rifles and talk in whispers. Fortunately, I was able to remain reasonably unbiased in my assessment of these men and women, and rather than dreading the encounters, as I did at first, I have come to look forward to meeting these unique individuals. Most of them are doing something they truly enjoy and aren’t afraid to spend what it takes to get it done, in money or energy. I’ve met out-of-state hunters who have been coming here religiously for 20 to 25 years and can rattle off the names of unmapped area trails and landmarks better than many who have lived here longer. Overwhelmingly, they abide by the rules and aren’t past accepting the meager advice I occasionally give them. Rarely, I find truly lost hunters, in the physical sense, and there’s a certain satisfaction in talking them through the episode, coaching them along until, eventually, they figure out where they are and wished they hadn’t “bothered” me.The next time you take a gander in the mirror, rest assured that the hunter is much like you, looking back at you with eyes that understand a lot more than we “locals” give him credit for, here for a week or two of living in the forest, concerned primarily about enjoying his “woodsman” vacation, but also pleased to share in the big-game harvest if fortune happens to smile his way.Tony Vagneur thinks life is the continuing evolution of trying to understand others. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net.

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