November 30, 1998
You've probably heard the stories: husbands calling wives from mountaintops via cellular phone to tell of their conquest, or lost hikers phoning friends to call out the search and rescue crews.
But the report I received last Tuesday morning may be a first. Hunter Rex Knight called the newspaper on his cell phone, informing me he could see 500 elk in a field in Oregon's Blue Mountains. "Isn't this crazy?" Knight raved.
I asked if I could have the publisher call him back, but he said no, he'd probably be away from hunting camp and wouldn't have the c-phone with him.
Probably this was best. No one wants to be seen taking a call while stalking the wily elk (though a certain local city official is said to be reachable when hunkered in a $150-a-day Eastern Washington duck blind).
But it also marks a disturbing trend. Cell phones have joined matches, white gas, and a deck of cards as one of the necessities for life at deer camp. And camp, the last vestige of years gone by where men ranged far and wide in search of meat for their people, just isn't the same.
Take, for example, the spectacle I witnessed a few years ago high above Winthrop. A guy whose camp-swagger suggested a straight-backed, drink-swilling, tall-tale-telling dead-eye suddenly grew mealy while, for some reason, calling home. Fortunately, because we were a major mountain range and 150 miles from home, reception was poor, and we were spared from too many repetitions of "but, honey ... it's on top of the dresser ... yes, dear."
Cell phones defeat the purpose of camp, which nowadays is mainly to "get away" and practice such socially unacceptable skills as building large fires and cooking gas-producing meals.
Still, just like everyone else, hunters have embraced technology at the end of the 20th Century. There are directional microphones to help hear forest creatures, remote cameras that can be set up along game trails, and a whole host of camouflage clothing that can turn the wearer into a mobile thicket.
And I have to admit that a cell phone saved Dad and me a grueling 200-yard walk to the nearest pay phone when his truck began spewing smoke on top of Stevens Pass in October. Some fellow hunters stopped and let us use their phone to call a tow truck.
But the question is, does the appearance of cell phones next to hunting knives and game bags mean that hunters are becoming more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan as the millennium draws near?
We're still suffering throwbacks, literally, to the days of yore. Take the dog-spear, for example.
Recently, a friend called to say that a former roommate of ours, Aaron Collins, had stripped down to his underwear, waded into the Snake River in Eastern Washington, and hurled his dog out into the water at a duck.
Actually, Collins had shot the mallard and wanted Tucker, his expensive, young Hungarian vizla, to retrieve it. But the bird had dropped a bit too far out for Tucker's comfort. So it was either the dog or Collins who brought in the duck.
Turns out it was neither. Tucker swam to shore, and Collins got dressed again. (Did I mention this was all done near a highway?) Our man on the scene, Greg Olenik, used a fishing pole to haul in the duck's carcass--after about 50 casts.
My editor wondered whether the dog's name was still Tucker, or now a semi-creative variation thereof.
It seems duck hunters in Western Washington are a little more advanced. Take the call which came over the police scanner last Friday afternoon. A woman from the Duvall area was complaining that some sort of latter-day Viking gunboat was sailing over her planted field, then flooded, blasting at ducks. She wanted the sheriff to put an end to the marauding and pillaging.
It's clear hunters (and especially duck hunters) have a ways to go before fully joining the 21st Century, but (now back to my story) if we don't nip this cell habit now, I predict one day we'll see a gang of guys running around a hillside, hands pressed to ears, and the following conversation:
"See him, Harve? He's just to your left."
"Down by that tree, Frank?"
"Yeah. Let me call Pete ... Hey, Pete, we see one!"
"Hold on, Frank, I've got my broker on the line ... Kevin, I'm gonna have to call you back. We're right in the middle of a deer drive and they spotted one. What's that? Microsoft is going to split? Yes!"