October of 2018 was a wonderful time to be outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, late September and October are always my favorite times of the year. But this year the month was mostly sunny, mostly warm, with enough precipitation and cold snaps to add snow to the mountain ridges and a bit of tension when driving wet dirt roads.
Part of the reason I look forward to October is it coincides with the openings of duck and deer seasons. Utah’s deer season opens on the third Saturday of this month while many units just over the border in Idaho opened on October 10th. Waterfowl season starts the first Saturday of the month in Northern Utah. The value of predictable opening days is they bring with them the ability to plan. When people can plan, they almost always figure out how to include friends and family.
In the West, big game hunts often result in setting up of camps. I have been reading “Green Hills of Africa” by Ernest Hemingway over the last month and this book has reminded me of the value of spending time in the woods with people you care about. While Green Hills of Africa is a book about a safari, most of the insightful writing covers discussion had in camp around the fire before or after heading into the field. The repartees among friends in this book include a bit of competition, a lot of hope, and a gamut of other topics ranging from politics to the best brand of whiskey.
This is what discussions in hunting camps sound like. Perhaps one of the only other times discussions resemble those in hunting camps are at family reunions. Looking back over the years, it is hard for me to know if you need to hunt or fish to be considered one of my best friends or if the strength of our friendship grew out of getting to know one another sitting around a campfire.
Hunting camps differ from other overnight outdoor excursions such as camping. Hunting — or fishing — as it occurs during the day, is often an individual experience which can be recounted with different degrees of verity in the evening.
Furthermore, some will be more successful than others and these differences provide room for discussions about people’s ability, even if most of the success could be written off to luck. While ribbing a friend’s aptitude use to primarily reside in camps of hunters and anglers it is nice to see these types of discussions expanding to other groups such as mountain bikers on a weekend trip or to off-road vehicle rallies.
Although big game hunting can revolve around the camping experience, hunting opening day for waterfowl near the Great Salt Lake is another unique experience.
The vision of a rising sun over an expansive marsh with thousands of ducks and geese flying overhead combined with the cacophony of gunfire is an experience not easily replicated.
If you hunted any of the state’s Waterfowl Management Areas around the Great Salt Lake or the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on opening day, this hunt should also be a reminder that without hunters many of these lands may have ended up dewatered salt flats. Instead, hunter’s dollars funded the construction of dikes that help keep these wetlands wet.
Another great aspect of an October in the west is you could tell the month without a calendar. The most obvious symbol of this time of year is hunter’s orange becomes a meaningful component of many peoples wardrobe. Predawn stops at gas stations in rural Utah or Idaho will nearly always include people in camouflage heading to the marsh or in orange heading to the mountains. The unspoken understanding in these settings is everyone is in a slow rush.
October is the time to fill the freezer. Many of the hunting seasons for elk, deer, and antelope in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming overlap this month. I have long processed my own wild game meat as it reminds me I am less than 100 years removed from a time when harvested animals were an important component of a family’s annual protein intake.
Now that October is over it is time to start planning for next year. Unlike 30 years ago, if you want to hunt big game, you will need to apply for tags. November is a great month to contemplate these types of questions as well as providing another reason for friends and family to gather. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.