Sunday, May 31, 2015

Drawing the Inside Straight

        I remember the first one I ever drew. It was a pink card – a “special permit” in the language of the day. The year was 1968, and I was 14 years old. My first “cow permit” and I was thrilled beyond words. There were no “limited quota” licenses then. For antelope, you had to show up at the Game and Fish Department “district office” and stand in line on the appointed day (actually you showed up after work the evening before the appointed day and camped out in a lawn chair all night to hold your place in line) to get your license. For deer, you just bought a license any time before you went hunting. And for elk, you bought a license that entitled you to hunt in what we’d now call a general license area. Then, if you wanted a “special permit” you filled out an application and sent it in to the Department. If you were successful, you might get to hunt in a premium area like Little Mountain or the Ferris Mountains. Or you might even be lucky enough to hunt a cow in the Giffy Butte country where we hunted.
      I got lucky. I scored a cow license in the area we’d hunted forever. It was the old man’s favorite area. He knew it like you might know your own back yard because it was his back yard. He had ridden horseback and walked every inch of it from timberline to sagebrush. But he wouldn’t be there. He died unexpectedly in the spring of ’67 and the last year had been hell for everyone involved. But the days and months had ticked by slowly and Old Luke was not going to let me fail on this one. My dad’s best friend, he became my life coach and my lifeline in those days. The paperwork was submitted, the drawing was held and on a glorious morning in July, that pink card arrived in PO Box 133.
       It sat on my dresser all summer, stuck in the frame of the mirror. I looked at it every day and thought about what it was going to be like to kill my first elk. Sometimes, I’d just sit and hold it and envision myself sneaking through the timber with Uncle Grant’s .270 over my shoulder. I shot the rifle over and over that summer after Uncle Alan took it to Salt Lake City and had a scope put on it to replace the old peep sight. Sometimes, I’d get the rifle out and just hold it and the cow permit together. Then my brain would cue the video again and I’d be back in the snowy timber of my imagination. The pink card, the Model 54 Winchester and I were a team. All we needed was a chance to play.
        Almost half a century has passed since that summer. But the magic is still there. The suspense, the anticipation, the video in my head – they’re all still there. I hope they always will be.