Every hunting trip has a narrative and the capacity to be instructional. So it was with my trip to the Ruby Mountains last week in search of Himalayan snowcock.
This foray into an isolated Great Basin mountain range included two friends also born in 1962, who I met while attending Utah State in the 1980s. The fourth person on this trip was the son of one of those friends. We were seeking a species not many are aware of and few seek in this sliver of Nevada. Not only are these birds found in an out-of-the-way place, in an out-of-the-way state, they generally are found above treeline and only a handful are harvested each year.
There is a long-term synchronicity between this bird’s appearance and ours. Himalayan snowcock were released into the northern part of the Rubys a year after we were born (1963). They appear to be the last successful state sponsored effort to introduce a gamebird to the United States from another continent. Their release in Nevada corresponds to the last generation of old-school hunters. People from this school are easily identified because at some point in their lives they stated wool was the best outdoor clothing material because it kept you warm while wet. The current generation of hunters would never say that; they would just wonder why anyone would wear gear that allowed a hunter to get wet in the first place.
It was surprising how many people were hiking the trail we took to get to where we wanted to set up camp. There were groups and individuals, young and old, hiking in September without a fishing pole or gun in their hand. Signifying how diverse fall hikers have become, there were groups consisting of only women, and there was an elderly Hispanic gentleman with a fishing rod. Even on a weekday the parking lot was full of vehicles from other states. This reflected my hunting companions since they currently reside in Oregon, California, and Alaska.
One of the narratives this hunt illustrated was hunters are becoming a smaller slice of those people using public lands — even outside the summer season. To be honest, it may be understandable why many people do not pursue Himalayan snowcock as we saw only four of these birds over a four-day hunt. That we saw few other hunters portends a gloomy future for hunting. Even we were only able to get one of our offspring into the field. While all of our kids hunt, they had little interest in gaining and losing several thousands of feet of elevation each day on a glorified snipe hunt.
In not spending much time hunting, people lose an important skill. A hunter’s cadence on steep ground is take four or five steps, make sure you have firm footing, look left and right to see where the other hunters are, and then look forward for the possibility of a flush. The son that did hunt with us took fewer shots because his eyes were always looking at the ground just in front of his feet. This meant he was slow when a grouse quickly exited nearby hiding cover. For the people we encountered on the trail, they too had their heads down when hiking, looking up only at scenic overlooks to take pictures.
So what was the moral of this story? That three friends born in the same year and who met over 35 years ago at college can have a successful hunting trip even if the target species is not harvested. I’d be lying if I suggested there wasn’t some unhappiness associated with not shooting a Himalayan snowcock, but that emotion was at the margin of the trip and may be the incentive that gets us to come back. The trip also means that as long as everyone stays healthy, there will be another excursion, somewhere, next year.
What was this outing’s lesson? That we may be too concerned with the trends in hunter numbers and underestimate the value the younger generation and other users’ place on public lands. Forty years ago when I first visited Logan Canyon in September, the vast majority of the people I saw were men out hunting. This is no longer true. Current outdoor enthusiasts are now far more likely to have an electronic device in their hand than a gun. While I hope I convince a few of the younger generation to take up hunting, I’m increasingly thankful so many people like to spend time outdoors since this will play a pivotal role in protecting public lands into the future.