Oct
30

About Hunting, Fishing & Outdoor Partners

It was one of those simple, innocent, questions that triggers a fairly in-depth conversation, followed by days of mind-probing thought. Then, there’s the savoring of experiences which are not often lifter from the back of the vaults in my Memory Bank.

A week ago, homey and hunting partner Wes Clogston and I were out on the Army’s Yakima, Washington, Training Center ground. As master hunters, we have a responsibility to deal with the cow elk which spend nights messing up farm fields in Badger Pocket, south east of Ellensburg, and then retreat to the Training Center. Ever mindful of carrying out our duties, we were diligently spending time behind our binoculars scouring hills, draws and sagebrush valleys.

At one point, we were lost in glassing a beautiful mule deer buck moving through early morning sunshine up into a scatter of red basalt boulders, apparently in search of a bed-down spot. Admiring that buck with Wes flashed me back to sitting alongside Rick Doell, my first really good hunting/fishing/outdoor partner, as we glassed a small group of muleys in the piñon-juniper country out in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado.

“So, Wes,” I asked, “how many true hunting and fishing partners have you had in your life? You know: partners you never doubted would have your back, no matter what… Someone you just trusted in any wild place or for any wild or crazy situation in which you found yourself?”

The ensuing conversation and swapping of humorous – and not-so – tales consumed the next four or five hours of our elk search. By the end of that day, we agreed that our quality outdoor partners could be counted on one hand. Over the following days, I found myself stumbling into those memories and experiences at almost any odd moment.

During the Puget Sound Energy and Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Hunter’s Breakfast out at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility last Friday morning (10/25), I found myself asking groups of hunters about their partners. Seemed like everyone had one or more person without whom hunting would not be right. The terms that came up most frequently were trust, family, just like family, and dependability.

Rick and I met at Lowry AFB in 1963, after overseas stints. Our radio and TV production work was about as much indoors as we could stand, and we quickly agreed to head outdoors. He hailed from suburban Boston, but with a Stetson, a pair of boots, and a Winchester .270, he evolved into a westerner.

From the beginning, Rick was part of me. If I was thinking thirsty, he’d hand me a cool one. If I was about to cast long, he’d cast short. He always took the duck on his side of the blind, and he never shot the pheasant that got up in front of me until I’d fired both barrels. On a deer hunt, we’d separate to work a long hillside. We’d move slowly through the timber for an hour or more – a hundred yards apart – and we’d reach our designated rendezvous within a minute of each other. Firearm or fish hook, safety was never an issue. We just always knew where the other guy was.

With growing families and increasing responsibilities, we escaped less often, but our campfires were special. And he’d still pretend to see a deer or elk on another mountain just to get me over there. In spring, 1970, I headed off to more graduate work at the University of Kansas (KU). Rick and I had planned a fall bird hunt with his dogs in Kansas. Late one night his wife, Elberta, called. Rick had split his helmet in a motorcycle crash. He came home from rehab, but never grew beyond an unmanageable 6-year-old in a man’s body.

On antelope hunts, I still hear Rick marvel at the speed of those “goats.” Now and again I still hear his laughter across a campfire.

I met Phil at KU. A California boy, quiet in the classroom, but fully alive afield. He was a wonderful storyteller – some of his stories were no doubt true. Phil never got dirty or wrinkled or greasy or bloody or any of the other things you go fishing or hunting to get. He’d clean as many fish or birds as I did, but he’d look ready for the office, and I’d be blood and guts from head to toe. He said I was a born slob. He was a fine and dependable partner. He took a position in Oregon, and we hunted a bit in Colorado and Wyoming until a time his wife stayed with my about-to-be ex-wife. Haven’t seen him since.

In the top three on my list would be Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward, now pursuing his stunt career in Los Angeles. We still do a bit of fishing and hunting, but never enough. I deeply value my Wyoming and Texas hunting time with son James and son-in-law Chris. For a time I had great partners in the James Gang, on our bird hunts. Bill Boyum and Wes would clearly be right up there on a current list. No matter how you cut it, though, it’s not a long list.

Clearly not be as sacred as the relationships we develop and nurture with our spouses, but relationships with our most trusted hunting, fishing and outdoor partners are important – and critical to our enjoyment and success afield.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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