As a young boy growing up, I dreamed about someday hunting with a professional guide. My guides were my father and grandfather. Their directions were pretty simple: “Sit against this tree and be quiet— and still.” For a 6-year-old, you might as well have said build a life-sized model of the Pentagon out of Legos.
There was no way I could be quiet and still! I’m sure it was nothing short of a comedy show for the squirrels that I was hunting. In fact, the word on the street is the family of the first squirrel I ever killed was so embarrassed they packed up and moved to another state just to avoid the ridicule of the other squirrels in the neighborhood. As an adult I’ve been blessed to go on many hunts that required a guide. Most of those guides have been great and became good friends.
Climbing mountains together for a week tends to do that. Some, of course, have been a little more memorable than others. I remember a hunt for Dall’s sheep in the Northwest Territories. It was one of those deals where you’re dropped in the middle of nowhere and the pilot says, “See you in 9 days.” Seeing a fresh pile of grizzly bear poop a few minutes later strongly encouraged me to stick close to my guide.
The problem was that my guide had been spotting sheep and guiding hunts in those mountains for 12 weeks, and there are no showers to wash off the daily sweat and grime. Let’s just say he was a little ripe—like gag-a-vulture ripe—so sticking close to him was quite a challenge. No kidding: Our group had to take turns being the first guy in line behind him. When you couldn’t take it any longer, you’d slow down and let the next guy in line take his turn in the chute while you drifted to the rear of the caravan to get some clean air.
In hindsight, we never saw a bear, so maybe world-class BO is a better bear deterrent than pepper spray. All I know is that when we finally got a sheep there were several guys volunteering to clean it. Sheep guts smelled like Chanel No. 5 next to our guide. I once had an elk guide in New Mexico who we’ll call “Bob” because I’m sure he doesn’t want to be famous for this. Bob knew enough about elk and how to hunt them.
The problem was Bob had been struggling with gout, and his doctor had given him some medicine that absolutely tore his stomach up. Seriousl Bob made geese look constipated. These attacks hit Bob often and he needed to respond to the call immediately immediately. He might be standing behind the spotting scope one second and squatting alongside it the next. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Bob wasn’t the type to embarrass easily. I saw things that week that still make me wake up in a cold sweat all these years later. On the last night of the hunt, we were still without an elk and had staked ourselves in a blind near a waterhole. We felt good about our chances because it had been unseasonably hot and there were tons of tracks.
After several hours in the blind and just as the sun was starting to set, Bob said, “Oh no!” and jumps out of the blind and takes off running. About 40 yards from the blind he stops and assumes the position. I’m mortified. He comes back 10 minutes later, soaked in sweat, and bragging about how he’d been smart enough to think ahead and put a roll of toilet paper in his jacket pocket. That wasn’t exactly what I was thinking at that moment. Well maybe the elk didn’t see him, I thought, and we still have a chance. I scoured the hills with my binocular for signs of a thirsty bull.
Twenty minutes later, what slim hopes I had vanished when Bob shouted “Oh no!” again and dashed out of the blind. Later, as we walked back to the truck in the dark, I asked God why he’d given me Bob as a guide that week. Though he didn’t answer then, I think now it might have been because he knew it was going to make a great story later. Sometimes I long for the days of just trying to sit still and be quiet.