As I am entering the autumn of my life (growing older but not necessarily wiser), I have realized something wonderful: There is simply no way on earth to pick a single, favorite, best fall moment as a friend requested for this essay.
For the lifelong hunter, fall brings the very earliest of all memories. Cold, clear days and a canoe being pushed into the water to bust thin skim ice, shooting squirrels and wood ducks from it on an old cypress swamp, daydreaming about the big, white-horned buck or sounder of wild hogs just around every corner of the creek as a boy’s imagination runs wild. Old butane handwarmers, and deer stands made from actual two-by-four wood and plywood. Turkeys walking right up to me in blaze orange if I did not blink, toes numbing below a live oak tree. Huge, southern fox squirrels hitting the forest floor with a whump. A giant blacktail with 9-inch drop tines skidding to a stop in the black timber and heavy snow on Mount Rainier from a running neck shot, my first deer at age 15 with a .270. Tracking a tiny band of Roosevelt elk at age 18, bows in hand, with a close friend for seven hours, crossing a river five times and chasing bugles to see my friend make an 85-yard shot into the record books… and the way that giant bull made my Toyota pickup sag, horns sprouting from the bed like tree roots. Bloody cougar tracks in the snow swinging down into the trail of the huge buck I was tracking in Idaho, giant whitetails and muleys on the Canada border in Washington too smart to let me catch more than a glimpse, circling back in my tracks. Snowstorms at 10,000 feet in Utah in August, giant velvet muleys always just out of reach.
Fall is a giant Texas whitetail that fled when, as a five-year old, I yelled, “Look, daddy, there’s a buck,” as my father was trying to switch from birdshot to slugs in his old Fox double (and he almost made it). Smoking hot Eastern Washington duck shoots with dad and friends, with the first cool mornings of the year. And, of course, doves. Doves all over, in many states, their small feathers sticky with their blood on your fingers. And that one lucky bird that made the strafing run down the line of guns in September and lived to tell about it. Their breasts wrapped in bacon and kids running through the feathers all over the ground when the plucking was done.
Fall is giant black bears appearing like huge black cows in huckleberry patches in the Northwest while we were looking for mule deer in September, and the blistering foot pain from packing them out on foot because you could not resist making that shot. Grouse in the trail, fool’s hens, killable with rocks and their berry-flavored breasts over the fire.
My fall memories are too many to list. And you can always find more. Most exciting of all, the best memories of fall are the ones coming up, and also learning there are really two fall seasons on this earth.
Down in Argentina this April, fall was settling across the land, cool nights squeezing the last greens from the lower grasslands, pushing to blonde and just starting to do the same to the trees. I’d waited my whole life to witness fall here, and hear the great red stag roar. And yes, it’s true, they make our beautiful iconic wapiti whistle sound like feminine weaklings. Chasing screaming stags in the Andes while guys back home were calling turkeys is a bucket list memory no one can ever take away.
That trip blew my mind, the booming dragon roar in the black timber from stags that fight so hard entire beams are snapped off. Then we shot limits of ducks, and hooked trout in cold, clear autumn waters. The other hemisphere will be an unfortunately expensive new addiction to the best season, but it’s sure amazing to really experience why fall is so wonderful God saw fit to make two of them.
- Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Here in the Midwest, the dog days of summer give way to Indian summer, where sometime in late September and early October shorter daylight hours, lower daytime temperatures, and cooler nights eventually trigger colorful fall foliage…
Of course, October also means the beginning of the false or early rut for whitetail deer, which is the only big-game animal we can hunt smack dab in the Midwest or Illinois. The corn and soybeans are being shelled or cut by those big $250,000 combines, and that means more deer will be on the move. And bowhunters are licking their chops, anticipating elevated levels of activity prior to the gun season opener in November.
But my favorite fall (and spring) memory actually takes me some 3,000 miles northwest to Alaska, the Last Frontier. And it’s two memorable hunts, not one. The reason for two special and memorable hunts? Because both represented the opportunity to hunt two big-game species I had never hunted before, to hunt with industry friends, and to be the first to field test entirely new rifle cartridges.
On my very first trip to Alaska, a hunting trip I had dreamed about since I was in grade school, I had the opportunity to hunt Alaskan moose with Remington’s Art Wheaton. Remington had just that year introduced the Ultra Mag series of cartridges, and I had a Model 700 in .300 long-action Ultra Mag that would prove to be perfect moose medicine. The rut was in full swing, and with my guide (Virgil Umphenour from Hunt Alaska) using a call to entice a bull to temporarily leave his cows; he brought me face to face with a heavy horned 1,600-pound bull in some very thick willows.
You have to understand that for a Midwesterner who had only hunted 150-200 pound whitetails in the woods, this four-legged critter looked as big as a locomotive weaving his way through the willows. Moving through thick brush and busting off willows and pine boughs at will, the bull was towering over all else and was a sight to behold. He was irritated and agitated, and he wanted to confront any challenger who wanted to “steal” one of his cows. Given we were only 50 or so yards away from each other, you can imagine how nervous I was as I got in position, brought the 700 bolt action firmly to my shoulder, fixed the crosshairs on his front shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
The Ultra Mag and Model 700 did its part…moose meat to fill the freezer and a mount to proudly display in my game room.
My second trip to Alaska brought me to a hunting area near Norton Sound with my good friend Wayne Holt, who was with Hornady. It was another opportunity of a lifetime, hunting grizzly bear. Hornady decided to introduce the .375 Ruger cartridge, a round that basically exceeds the performance of the .375 H&H, and to prove its remarkable performance; they wanted us to try it out on dangerous game.
Again, long story short, my guide, Eric Umphenour, spotted a grizzly in open country that seemed to be heading in our direction. Fortunately, we had time to set up and then play the waiting game. Eric had perfectly read the bear’s intention as he basically followed a drainage until he was only about 125 yards away. He was moving quickly from left to right, and when Eric whispered, “take him,” I squeezed the trigger on my Ruger Model 77 Alaskan and heard the first 270-grain bullet impact.
The problem was, when the bear was hit, he went down in a dip in the ground and disappeared. The pucker factor on my index was off the charts. As we discussed what to do next, the griz suddenly resurfaced running full out from right to left…I had a split second to put a second round in him…. I did and he went down instantly.
Two great animals taken with two great guns and two new cartridges, with two special friends….
Two trips loaded with memories to last a lifetime…
—Jim Bequette - Guns & Ammo Magazine