The Man Trip
October 16th opened the flood gates for hunters statewide to adventure out into the wilderness to have their luck at ducks, geese, deer and elk. It’s not an annual tradition, but every few years my dad would join the herd of hunters to the most remote areas of Washington State and this year was one of those years and I got to join him. Mission? White-tail Deer.
I drove off to the Umatilla National Forest, two and a half hours south of Spokane. The last 1/2 mile of road was not friendly to my car’s bumper. ( There was much apologizing and caressing during its car wash earlier this afternoon.) The campsite revealed six men, an ingenious “kitchen” set-up, the party tent and the glorious ring of folding chairs around the campfire. From here on out, we will refer to the campsite as the “man camp”.
According to Umatilla Hunter’s Lore, the Barn was the starting point for a strategic loop that was a goldmine for deer. The hunters separate among the hills. One on the bottom toward the ravine, one in the middle to wade through the brush and a third on top of the hill. They march along the ravine pushing the deer out (mostly does) until finally, a buck pops his head out and then the hunt is on.
The terrain in the loop we walked was some of the toughest I’ve ever had to march through. Everything is on a slope, so you constantly have to switch from one side of the ravine to another so you can balance the pain in each ankle from walking at a slant. It was three miles that felt more like ten. I got stuck in the middle portion of the hill most of the time. I had quite the layer of burrs on my clothing. Dislike. Luckily I didn’t have the weight of a rifle strapped to my back like the other guys. I was shooting with a Canon 40D.
Evening was approaching. I remembered at one point my father saying, “It’s going to be a dark in a hour.” Thirty minutes later we finally met up. The three of us stood there chatting about what a miserable time we had with no luck. Suddenly, a herd of does popped up. The guns lifted. My dad said, “Spike.” And then a 4pt buck popped up. At this point I didn’t even think about grabbing my camera. I didn’t know how loud guns were so I put my hands over my ears. He aimed. Pop. He missed. Pop. The buck stumbled and flipped down the hill twice in the brush. Dead before he even hit the ground.
We ran up the hill and found him sticking out of the bushes. I knew in the process of deer hunting, field dressing is important and the way you do it determines the quality of the venison. I learned a great deal about anatomy that evening. I had the urge to throw out a Star Wars quote, but I didn’t think it appropriate to say: “And I thought they smelled bad on the outside.” I don’t want to get into the gory details, but I will officially say that this did not phase me. I did get a little squeamish when I had to hold a plastic bag open for the liver and kidney. Emotionally none of this really got to me. It wasn’t until I held the plastic bag and had this strange realization that they were still warm. There was no cinematic breakdown of emotions. Instead I walked almost two miles back to the truck… up hill… at a slant… carrying deer organs and my dad’s rifle that was getting in the way. My father and his buddy strapped a rope around the antlers and themselves and started dragging. That was hard work from the sounds of it. By then it was dark and getting cold. After dragging the deer up a hill probably steeper than S. Monroe from 4th to 7th (and with rocks, soft dirt and brush), we got back to the truck. Victory smells like tauntauns and feels like hell.
Being invited along to the “man trip” was an honor. I felt like I got to know my Dad a little more by this. I wasn’t grossed out by the whole, “Um, there’s a dead deer hanging from a tree outside my tent.” It was when I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of terrible “man gas” emitting from the surrounding tents. OH, THE HORROR! I cried myself back to sleep and woke up to a beautiful morning in Umatilla National Forest.