Solo Camp

How The “High Lonesome” Got Spoiled By Morons

Dave defines the High Lonesome as a place of solitude, so his solo camp was nothing new nor fearful. He had the campfire and memories to keep him warm.

Opening weekend of deer hunting came — and went — with nary a shot fired from my rifle, a Savage American Classic in .308 Winchester, or either of my handguns, a vintage Model 57 S&W in .41 Magnum and my Ruger MKIV in .22 Long Rifle.

For the second year in a row, I had no company on this special weekend. As I had so often experienced in years past, mine was a solo camp, in the High Lonesome, 11 miles from cell phone service and three times that from the nearest semblance of civilization. Still, I gathered plenty of wood for a decent campfire, set up my cook table under a blue tarp, fired up three lanterns and a couple of battery-powered mini-lamps and dined on grouse from a previous hunt and hashbrowns, the latter carefully grated from potatoes I boiled in advance and fried up in a combination of bacon grease and olive oil.

I think it must have been this way for my grandfather and father before me on at least some occasions. And nothing allows me to communicate with them like a warm campfire on a chilly night, when I’m all alone with my thoughts and the ghosts of hunting pals who have moved on to their last camp, somewhere up around that next turn in the trail. My bedroom was a Cabela’s cot, shortened a couple of inches so it would fit inside my truck bed with the canopy and tailgate closed to keep the weather off, and a thick foam pad for insulation. I may not sleep quite like a baby, but it was good sleep and I still managed to be awake before sunrise to cook up a healthy breakfast before heading about 1,000 yards almost all uphill toward the top of a ridge, where I hoped to encounter a mule deer buck with at least a 3-point rack.

Dave’s luxurious sleeping quarters consisted of a customized bunk,
thick pad, warm sleeping bag and the hardware to fend off demons
or Sasquatches. He never fired a shot despite a full belt of .41 Magnum
handloads featuring 210-grain Nosler JHPs ahead of 20.0 grains of H110.

Lonesome is a relative term for people like me, I guess; we learned at a young age that solo hunting can often be good hunting, though at night, around the crackling fire, it is good to share a libation and swap memories with one or two companions. But my brother couldn’t make it, and my longtime hunting buddy was, I presume, still on the job in Alaska else I’d have heard from him. I missed them both, along with my dad, uncle and granddad who are long gone, but for whom there is always room at my campfire. Still, there is nothing wrong with the solitude of the High Lonesome, which is only what you make of it.

Lonesome is the time guys like me spend at the loading bench, carefully metering out precision loads for making a cold bore shot at whatever distance was necessary to anchor a deer and notch a tag. FYI, my load for the .308 consists of 39 grains of IMR 4895 behind a 165-grain Nosler E-Tip (for Expansion Tip) or AccuBond bullet, both of which have delivered consistent accuracy to have put venison in my cooler in the past. It’s listed as the “most accurate” load in my Nosler manual. The E-Tip is a lead-free projectile designed with a polymer tip to open up quickly for maximum tissue damage, and it’s my contribution to the “green” movement, since I don’t drive an electric vehicle, burn wood in a stove, eat meat and generally conduct my affairs as did generations of my male ancestors. I’m sure they dislike me in Seattle.

Lonesome allows for planning a morning hunt to match the last-minute conditions and the country. There was a chill in the air, the fall colors were in full cycle, leaves were falling, the ground was quietly damp, there were enough tracks to convince me there were plenty of deer in the area, and all I needed was the quiet. And then, it happened.

Somewhere down through this thinned timber stand is a solo camp,
amid the splendor of mid-October colors. It’s the kind of place
lone hunters seek to enjoy the high country and some peace and quiet.

What Gun Ranges Are For

On the way to my somewhat isolated campsite, I’d passed by a big camp with at least 15 trucks and a dozen campers and trailers, a couple of tents and maybe 40 or more people. It was the kind of hunting camp I had seen as a kid, during Washington’s heyday of fall hunting so many decades ago; a place where there would be laughter, where sons might be with fathers and uncles and granddads for their first big game hunt, and old friends would be thankful to share another great weekend with friends they had not seen perhaps since last year’s opener.

Long about 4 o’clock, some moron — perhaps more than one — began firing shots. Beats the hell out of me what could take that much shooting, especially on the evening prior to opening day. For the next couple of hours, I counted dozens of shots, from at least two different guns, and only self-control prevented me from hopping in the truck to drive back down the long valley of the North Fork Teanaway River to impolitely find the fool who was alerting every deer within miles about our presence and intentions.

Dave had guns, but he never fired a shot, the peace and promise
of a hunt ruined by inconsiderate knotheads who apparently think
it’s okay to wake up the deer herd with a barrage of gunfire.

Was this nincompoop sighting in a rifle at the last minute? This is what gun ranges are for, and I’ve written so often in the past about the necessity of using those long, lazy summer evenings for this chore. Zero the rifle, run a patch down the bore and a few days before the season opener, fire a fouling shot, stick the gun in a case and leave it there.

Or was he/they just being the south end of a northbound horse?

Based on the sound of the shots, whatever idiots were pressing triggers had to be at least a couple of miles down the road. Sound carries a long way in a narrow High Lonesome valley, where the only sound one should hear on the night before an opening day should be from the stream about a hundred yards downhill. But I could hear the noise, which means the local deer herd could hear it as well.

How Stupid Is That?

We’ll be as matter of fact about this as possible. Say there were maybe a hundred people in this valley, camped at several sites all the way to road’s end, who had invested time, and considerable sums of money for gas, groceries, licenses and tags, to be here on this special weekend. In Washington state, game management seems to many folks to be bad enough without somebody lousing things up at the last minute by being trigger happy. If this was happening in one of the big camps, one would think somebody might have knocked this nonsense off.

Gun ranges are for zeroing rifles and cranking off multiple rounds, not your hunting camp, which may be near other camps, where the occupants want it quiet the night before opening day.)

All of the hunters, especially the kids who were there to learn about hunting and spending time with dads and grandpas, deserved better than to have some jerk(s) spoil things by laying down a barrage that might resemble the soundtrack of a scene in some war movie. Through opening day, I heard three genuine rifle shots, all from the same gun and timed quickly to suggest somebody was plugging a buck.

To wait until the afternoon/evening before a season opener, after one arrives in camp, to start firing a rifle is so far beyond simple stupidity as to suggest the culprit(s) should be run out of the woods, and just might be too dumb to own guns, much less be allowed in the High Lonesome.

A few months ago, this column discussed “ethics” in the field. I skipped the part about being quiet once you arrive in hunting country. It’s probably worth a whole chapter in my memoir if I ever write the darned thing.

Has this Happened to You?

I know from experience many regular readers here are devoted hunters, some of whom might have had similar experiences. This column wants to hear from you, and your solutions to this sort of boorish behavior. Write me at [email protected].

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