How’s the winter going up there?
A friend of mine called from Arizona.
Rattlesnakes, he said. Lots of them.
He was standing in the middle of a field, he said on, a chair.
They are freaking me out, he said.
A neighbor in the rural camping spot where he stays during winters away from his Priest Lake home shot two of the snakes with a .22 pistol, he said.
They were harassing his dogs, or visa versa.
One of the snakes had a rattler with 10 buttons, he said. It raised up like a cobra and coiled its neck in catapult-fashion, ready to launch.
There seem to be more snakes out and about this winter than in winters past, he said. He was sipping a Mexican beer from the vantage of his chair as he hawk-eyed the surrounding landscape.
And then he asked why I had not caught a whitefish.
This is the pal I met on a mountain years ago while elk hunting. We were on the rim of a holler a few miles from blacktop south of Harrison in a place where a bull elk, weeks earlier had marked a bunch of trees with his antlers and it was not an uncommon spot to catch a deer — one of the big ones — sneaking past keeping to the shadows.
I thought I had the place to myself, then watched a man approach from above me, moving fast from tree to tree using his scope for binoculars like we all did back then and I yelled to make sure he knew I wasn’t fair game.
We got to know each other and I learned that he had logged, hunted and fished through more of the region than me, and with good success, and if I ever had a question about a place he could set me straight.
Once on Jungle Creek, he told me, bull elk bugled all night as he tried to sleep. He had to rise early to fell trees for the logging nearby. He stumbled from his camp trailer chasing off the bugling bulls by clanging pots and pans.
When my car broke down on the way to hunt early one morning a couple years ago near a major road 12 miles from Coeur d’Alene, I heard a bull bugle and gave chase. There was no cell reception, but I had my bow.
I trespassed on ground that, much earlier, had none of the stay-off signs it had on that particular day, and despite coming within 20 yards of the bull, I didn’t let loose an arrow.
Too much brush.
You might have gone around the back of that hill, my friend told me. He had killed a few bulls decades earlier on the other side away from the main road.
A well-known North Idaho angler used to hunt with my pal — whose name I won’t mention.
“He’s a killer,” the man said. Which may be the penultimate compliment one hunter can give another. In business, it’s called a closer. The two men had once spotted a big buck across a backcountry swamp rimmed with ice. My pal stripped down to his underwear, traversed the pond, shot the deer and floated it back where he dressed and they dragged the buck to the pickup truck.
Absolutely, this man said.
When I spotted a large bull elk at the edge of a meadow not far from town surrounded by homes that were outside the price range of most of us, I called my pal to tell him what I’d seen.
“We used to hunt the heck out of that when we were kids,” he said.
He and his buddies rode bicycles to the spot at the edge of town, laden with firearms and then called their parents when they filled a tag. He used a knife his dad gave him to field dress elk. He still has the knife.
Had he been up Ramsey Road lately, by the cemetery? I once asked.
Houses, Lots of them.
He hadn’t been there in a decade, he said. But he hunted the hayfields for whitetails back in the day, belly crawling out from the gravel road toward the trees and waiting until dusk when the deer picked their way over swales.
This was the man who was standing on a chair in a field in Arizona because of snakes.
I am just tired of the winters back home, he said. Tired of coveralls, insulated boots and union suits.
“It was 70 degrees here this morning,” he said.
Then he asked me again why I hadn’t caught a whitefish.
No talent for it, I told him. I am inadvertently catching trout instead.
Bartholdt is a staff writer for the Hagadone News Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.