Between the Sporting Seasons

By BRUCE AUCHLY, for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks

As outdoor enthusiasts, most of us are in the doldrums right now, just like professional sports which seem to dominate our lives and language.

Twice a year, the doldrums hit.

Twice a year, sportsmen and sportswomen look at the calendar and wonder what to do and how to keep from going crazy.

By late August, many are tired of the heat, have had enough fishing, and cannot wait for hunting to begin. The dog days of August, as they are called in baseball.

The other time is now, mid-February.

Ice fishing, while popular, doesn’t have anything like the number of participants who in the summer tramp along stream banks or drag their boats to reservoirs and big rivers. Predator hunting and trapping, also taking place currently, has its adherents but nowhere close to big game hunters and upland bird enthusiasts.

It’s the in-between season for hunting and fishing, just like in sports. Football is over, baseball seems like it will never arrive, and the excitement of playoff basketball and hockey is a long way off.

In prehistoric times, hunters sat around fires through the winter and recounted tales of bravery, animals taken, enemies vanquished. Youngsters would hide in the shadows, listening and dreaming of the day they could sit by the fire and boast.

Today we might sit around the woodstove and swap hunting and fishing tales, but we are just as likely to watch television and complain about work.

The next generation might still listen in the background to winter-told tales of hunting and fishing, but they are just as likely to check the Internet for the next available hunter education course.

Rather, winter is for all those chores, like making sure rifles and shotguns used last hunting season are cleaned and put away, separate from ammunition, and ammunition isreloaded.

And with the rush of fall hunting over, game in the freezer and the holidays past, summer fishing gear needs to be cleaned and refurbished. Artificial flies have to be tied. Lures replaced. Rods and reels repaired or new ones bought.

So it is that we arrive at the middle of February, thinking of hunting, thinking of fishing. Thinking of hiking five miles that November day in the mountains to a can’t miss spot and not see any elk. Struck out.

Or the day spent fishing Tiber Reservoir and coming home with a limit of walleye and a couple of big northern pike. Ran the table. Touchdown.

Or the off-hand, outrageously long, 300-yard shot to bring down that trophy antelope. Slam dunk.

If a bighorn sheep hunter has taken all four species of North America’s native wild sheep, he or she has a grand slam.

Maybe sports is a good analogy for hunting and fishing. After all, whether watching or participating, sports is competition.

Sure there are people, and players, who cheat. But at it’s best, sports is about testing our skills against a competitor, even if that competitor is nature. It’s about ethics and good sportsmanship. About making sure the other side has a fair chance.

And so we wait for longer days and warmer weather and dream about hunting, or fishing, or even sports.

It’s all about the future, all about the past.

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For more posts about hunting, fishing, and the great outdoors of Missoula and Western Montana, visit the Make it Missoula hunting archive or the Wild Open Spaces blog.