Opinion | Biff America: Dogs, cats and guns
“There’s some guy outside the camper,” whispered my mate. “You better go out and talk to him.”
We were in rural Montana and had camped about a half mile off the pavement on a dirt road. The day before, Ellie had noticed the mouth of a fairly large canyon on a map and wondered if it was possible to hike it.
We literally had seen only one home in 50 miles so when we found a dirt road that was heading off the general direction of the canyon we drove down it and parked. We took an amazing sunset hike along the rim, returned to our camper, cooked dinner, read our books and went to bed.
We didn’t hear a sound all night.
At about 8 a.m. a truck pulled up. It was large and dirty with a wooden topper built on the back. What surprised us was that he had come from the opposite direction as we had. We had driven about a half mile off the pavement and according to our map the road didn’t go much further.
It kind of freaked us out that the guy had been there the entire night and we didn’t know it.
He had shut off the engine and got out of his truck.
“Lock the door behind me,” I said. “I’ll see what he wants.”
My concern evaporated when I saw a smile and he asked, “How do you like that camper?” He looked a little older than I and wore jeans, a flannel work shirt and vest. We walked around the camper as I told him the pros and cons and he produced a tape measure to see if a camper like ours could fit on his truck. He said his truck had a bed built into the the topper but his girlfriend recently demanded a camper with a toilet.
Once Ellie determined that the encounter was friendly, she came out. Introductions were made all around. His name was Brian and it seemed he lived at the one home we had passed about a mile back. Ellie began to grill him with questions about the surrounding mountains and canyons. He was familiar with them all. We told him about our hike to the canyon the night before and he said he would be surprised if more than one or two people did that hike every year.
He added that we had picked a beautiful place to camp.
He was in no hurry to leave and neither were we, so we swapped histories. He was a rancher, horseman and welder by trade.
He then said that his passion was mountain lion hunting.
I have many friends who hunt and I would argue that hunting is a more humane method of getting meat than buying it in stores. That said, I had never met a lion hunter so I asked how it was done.
To hunt cats, he had two large dogs. He said they couldn’t be called pets. When the dogs get the scent, they take off and he chases. Sometime the chase lasts hours, even days. Sometime the dogs are miles ahead and he is guided by the sound of their barking. Eventually the hounds issue a distinct wail that alerts him the cat is cornered or treed. By following the wails, the guy locates the dogs and the lion which he shoots.
Though I took notes as soon as the guy left, I might have gotten a few of the facts wrong, but that was the gist of it.
When I asked him about regulations, he said there were only a small amount of cats allowed to be hunted every year that was determined by wildlife managers. He also said the zones were heavily restricted and mentioned that once he had followed a lion for two days, only to have it treed on an Indian reservation where he didn’t have permission to hunt so he leashed his dogs and left.
Hearing the story, my first inclination was to think how cruel that process was. Chasing a wild animal with dogs for days, treeing and shooting it doesn’t seem fair. I had difficulty reconciling the cruelty of the practice with the very friendly and likable guy we were talking to.
Eventually I settled on a couple conclusions. Good people, with varying histories and sensibilities, can witness the same event and arrive at vastly different conclusions. And judgment and condemnation is easy, empathy takes effort.
He was about to leave when Ellie asked if where we were camped was on Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Montana public lands. He laughed and said, “This is my land, you are camped on what I call my driveway. You are welcome to camp here any time.”
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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