Mom says don’t shoot anything. This seems like odd advice for hunting bear, but she would prefer to fill the freezer with other game. Unfortunately, she is not placing an order at the drive through, so she gets what Dad brings home. This hunting trip is Dad’s idea. It’s really a subterfuge to spend some father-daughter time together without the interruption of clucking hens. When in roost, my mother, aunt, and grandmother leave little room for idle discussion. My father, being the silent hunter, must venture hours into the wilderness for his solitude. So now, as a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and avid runner, I find myself barely able to keep up with a 60-year-old cancer survivor. My dad is a badass hunter.
Before heading out, Dad mentions a particular bear he had been tracking that eats elk and leaves scat piles the size of soccer balls. Great. This is how bad horror movies create foreshadowing. Combine that with my above average bra size and weak ankles to see how I might be cast in this film. Don’t run into that cave! Bearzilla is in your tent! But, I digress. Let’s start this adventure in the dark, so I’m going to need you to be up by 0400 so we can be on the ridge by sunrise. Bearzilla likes breakfast to be timely. *yawn blink blink
Like any good hunter, my dad clears many of his own trails. Also, like Top Secret Black OPS, the location of his favorite hunting grounds and trails are strongly guarded. After driving for an hour in the truck, Dad unloads his motorcycle and we continue into the mountains. Motorcycle trail or flash-flood washout could both be viable descriptions of the route we followed toward the smoky skyline. In order to maintain location secrecy, trailheads are camouflaged with plenty of branches, underbrush, poison sumac, and Devil’s Snare to repel the unworthy. Forgetting to pack my machete, I must use Dad as a trail blazer to avoid branches to the face. Often, these same branches must be used to maintain purchase on the steep incline of the mountain. I am in awe when I picture my father hiking all over these mountains for the next few months of hunting season. When we arrive at the spotting location, I notice a rough seat fashioned against a tree trunk. We have reached his spot and my dad is as peaceful as the forest around him as he breaks out his coffee thermos and cookies. Although I expect to hear Bearzilla crashing through the bushes at any moment, only the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees reach us.
As we sit on the side of a steep ridge, scanning the distant mountainside for bear-shaped shadows, soaring hawks are the only animal movement visible. Dad regales me with hunting stories of the area and I share my experiences overseas. It is an undisturbed morning until I feel the call of Nature in a less serene way. I crawl up the side of the ridge to find a suitable place to pee with enough underbrush to shield my pale full-moon from unwary watchers. Again, I am reminded how horror movies weed out the supporting characters. While searching for the perfect spot to squat, I avoid leaves with red spots, nettles, anthills, places that might conceal a snake, and foreboding caves. Reminding myself not to pee on my boots, I smile and remember that I borrowed these boots from Mom.
Not finding any bears lumbering about in our area, Dad decides we should hike across to another ridge. As we gain altitude, I hear more stories about the fire of 1910 and how each visible peak was named. My father has lived here all his life with this wilderness in his backyard. Yet, he doesn’t seem to take any of it for granted, appreciating the beauty and abundance with great anticipation for each hunting season. This connection is what got him through surgery and chemotherapy. He was determined to return to his woods again. As we ascend another ridge, he pauses for breath and I am thankful for the pause and attempt not to visibly suck-wind or lay down in the trail. Returning to the motorcycle, we head for another ridge and I vaguely remember all the muscles required to stay on the back of a trail bike as it treks down one peak and up another. My butt is numb, but the motorcycle seems to be a mere extension of my Dad as he expertly wends around tree stumps and through slides of loose rock.
Each new area we stop to view has both an expansive vista and several hunting stories. Typically, the wildlife would work their way into the most treacherous and difficult areas of the mountains, requiring a multiple-man and machine effort to retrieve the carcass. Usually the dark, rain, snow, or howling wind add an extra element of excitement to the hunt. However, Dad smiles fondly over these memories. The only deer that we see saunters off like Bugs Bunny holding a “Duck Season” sign for Elmer Fudd.
The promise of pizza lures us home in mid-afternoon. We have both enjoyed the time together, despite my protesting feet. When I finally check my Fitbit, it says I have climbed 77 flights of stairs today. My 60-year-old-cancer-survivor-great-white-hunter father is a badass.