Here’s some nightmare fuel for you- you’ve scrimped and saved for years to pay for your dream trip into the Alaska backcountry. While making plans, your regular hunting partner bails on you, and you line up another guy on the recommendation of a friend. So, after all the planning and logistical work is done, you’re finally dropped off far from civilization. As you watch the Beaver lift off and vanish over the horizon, your new buddy turns to you and says, “So, how are you fixed for life insurance/Ever heard of the Church of Scientology/I hope you don’t have any objections to Satanic masses?”
How the hell did this happen? How did this trip go so terribly wrong? Relax- it was only a dream. We’re here to help keep it from becoming a reality.
You’d think it’d be relatively easy to find a good hunting partner, in that hunting seems like a pretty uncomplicated pursuit. You and a friend go into the field, find and shoot animals, bring home the meat and trophies, relive the experiences over drinks when you get home. How tough is that?
Well, it’s obviously a lot tougher than it looks, to hear the horror stories told by way too many hunters. The opportunities for things to go terribly awry are so numerous that, upon examination of all the variables, it’s amazing that most trips go well at all. Let’s take a close look at some of the obstacles to a happy hunt.
For starters, there’s a wide gap among hunters when it comes to one of the most basic questions surrounding the issue there is: Why do you hunt? For some of us, it’s just the chance to be in the wilderness—away from home and work and phone and computer—is reason enough to go afield. Being in the outdoors, spending time with good friends, camping out and enjoying the experience is the main reason for going. If we harvest an animal and take home some meat, fine. If not, then that’s fine too.
Others among us are a bit more, shall we say, goal oriented. Some guys consider any hunt where they don’t bring home a wallhanger or a year’s worth of meat to be a total failure and a waste of time. Put a lid on all that ,”Guys, it just doesn’t get any better than this” crap, and make sure something big winds up dead, or else.
Still others are somewhere in between. Sure, the outdoor experience is fun, camaraderie is terrific, but it’d be awfully nice to put a lot of meat in the freezer if at all possible.
No matter where you fall in this spectrum, it’s important to either pair up with like-minded souls, or be willing to compromise in order to have a harmonious camp. Therefore, it’s vital to know ahead of time what to expect from a potential hunting buddy, and to be honest about what we’re willing to contribute.
In addition to the basic, Why do you hunt question, there are a number of others that should be ironed out well ahead of time if you intend to actually enjoy yourself out there. The ideal way to do this is to know as much as possible about your partners ahead of time. This doesn’t mean knowing someone from work or your social circle who “Seems like a really nice guy.” We can all be nice guys and agreeable as heck in social circumstances. You want to know what people are like in the field: Do they handle firearms in a safe manner?; Are they ethical and lawful in pursuit of game?; Do they always have to kill something in order to enjoy themselves?; Do they have to take the biggest and/or best animal in order to have fun afield?; How do they handle stressful situations?
There are lots more questions to be answered, and in an ideal situation, you’d know these answers because you’ve been hunting with them before in a controlled situation, close to home. That’s right—short trips where you can test each other out for compatibility are best before attempting to scale Kilimanjaro together. If you see that the other guy is careless about muzzle control or acts like a game hog or shows up at 7 AM with alcohol on his breath, that can tell you all you need to know, namely, there’s “no way in hell I’m doing a remote fly-in hunt with this jackass.”
But we all know this isn’t always the case as what happens way too often is that plans are made, deposits paid, vacations scheduled, and for one reason or another, one person can’t go. You wind up scrambling for someone, anyone, who can afford the time and money and can fit into your plans. You get the friend of a friend of a friend who seems agreeable enough, you finalize everything, and wind up in the backcountry with Hannibal Lecter. Yikes.
So what I’m thinking is, we need something like a Match.com questionnaire for prospective hunting buddies. While you can’t cover everything in a format like that, and you can’t come right out and ask, How big of a jerk are you?, (and expect a reasonable answer at least), I think there are a number of possible areas of conflict that can be revealed by this simple survey. Here’s a start:
1. What’s the most important part of a hunting trip for you- getting away from day-to-day life and enjoying the outdoors, acquiring a meat supply for the table, knocking down a Boone and Crockett trophy, or killing something, anything, so you can justify the purchase of your shiny new gun?
2. What’s your ideal hunting base camp- a 4-season backpackers tent, a big old wall tent with room to do your early-morning calisthenics, or nothing short of hot and cold running water, electricity, and if possible, room service?
3. How’s your field dressing and meat packing expertise- can you dress out a moose singlehandedly with your pocket knife, will you willingly carry half the meat from your partner’s kill, or do you suddenly develop a weak stomach, bad back and knee problems once an animal is down?
4. How does your typical day afield start out- energy bar and a swig of water and you’re ready to go, you just have to have a couple cups of coffee to get your heart started, or do you roll out at 9, fry bacon, eggs, pancakes, and grind your coffee beans in order to get out of camp before lunchtime?
5. How are we splitting gear and expenses- everything 50/50, we’ll use my gear and you’ll pay more of the expenses, or do I front everything, use my truck, gear, etc., and you’ll pay me back sometime soon?
6. What’s your policy on drinking while hunting- are you a teetotaler, enjoy a convivial drink in the evening after all the guns are unloaded, or do you figure a fifth of Jack a day is about right for you?
So, how do we avoid catastrophe? Probably the best method is to act like you’re setting up a business partnership. Ask questions, lots of them, and pay attention to the answers. If possible, check with mutual acquaintances and look for clues to the person’s character. And above all else, communicate your ideas, expectations, and thoughts in a clear and unambiguous manner. If you’ve got strong feelings about fair chase, firearm safety and game laws, drinking, or anything else, the time to make them known is before you leave home, not after you’ve watched the floatplane disappear into the clouds and you’re stuck with the hunting partner from hell. After all, you’ll both be armed and potentially dangerous—consider this fair warning.