The September Itch
This story is featured in Montana Outdoors September-October 2013 issue
For most of us, the itch has been going on for a few weeks now.
The nights are cooler, the days shorter, the sun lower in the southern sky.
The itch to be in the field—trying to bugle in an elk, following a dog along a coulee on a hunt for Hungarian partridge, scouting an antelope buck as he circles his harem of does.
The itch is as old as mankind. It dates back to our hunter-gatherer days when hunting meant survival and failure meant starvation. When prehistoric men and women lived in caves, drew pictures of their exploits on the walls, and spent nights around a fire retelling hunting tales.
Today we won’t starve if we come home empty handed. Truth be told, it’s probably cheaper to shop at the grocery store than depend on meat gathered from hunting.
Instead, the itch to get out there is more about adventure. Remembering and reliving the times of our youth, charging up a hill after an elk or a pheasant. Some of us still run up the hills. Others let the youngsters do the running, waiting to see what comes out on the backside of the mountain.
Scratching the itch serves a purpose best put by Theodore Roosevelt, writing to Mrs. Roosevelt about why he needed to go hunting: “Sweetest little wife, I think all the time of my little laughing, teasing beauty...and I could almost cry I love you so. But I think the hunting will do me good.”
We may laugh at Roosevelt’s attempt to get out of the house, but our 26th president and cofounder of the Boone and Crockett Club was onto something. He was trying to ease the itch—though it’s more complex than that.
There are lots of reasons why people in today’s modern North American civilization hunt: meat, trophies, companionship. All are part of the itch that can be scratched only away from home.
Everyone admires the meat hunter, the man or woman who ventures forth to bring sustenance to the dinner table. Still, pencil in the cost of ammunition, gasoline, rifle, winter clothing, a four-wheel-drive truck, and game generally becomes more expensive than meat at the supermarket.
Trophy hunting often takes the biggest hit from critics. But if the antlers on the wall are meant to keep something beautiful from slipping away and being forgotten, well, that seems okay to me.
And companionship doesn’t just have to be around the campfire. Many of us hunt alone, yet practically no one refuses to talk about his or her hunt. Any retelling makes the armchair listener a companion on that trek into the backcountry.
So as fall unfolds, and the guns and bows are brought out of the closet, consider how to scratch the itch. And remember that sometimes the most valuable prize brought home is the memory.
Bruce Auchly manages the regional Information and Education Program in Great Falls.
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