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January 24, 2008

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The Best Day of All?

This fall will be my 40th season of big-game hunting. I've been lucky enough to do a lot of it. I have lots of memories,  but there is one day in particular that stands out in my mind. It was a caribou hunt in Alaska, perhaps 100 miles east of Dillingham (population 2,468, plus 80 security cameras, bought on a Homeland Security grant in 2006 in case Osama should try to infiltrate through a fishing village) and took place in the mid-1990s. I was there with two other hunters and I had gotten a caribou the day before, so I got to stay in camp while they went looking.
I was all by my lonesome in the middle of true wilderness. No roads, no power lines, no planes, no contrails, no nothing, just me in a tent camp by a river whose name I have forgotten.
It was a beautiful day; blue sky, no wind, no rain, no bugs. I split some wood in the morning, and for lunch made a sandwich out of  Argentine corned beef whose principle ingredients were salt, water, and horsemeat. For the rest of the time I simply sat by the river and watched the salmon roll.
Around 4 PM the clouds came in and after them a downpour with high winds. This was Alaska, after all. I went to our tents and started fires in the sheepherder stoves, and before long the others returned drenched, near-hypothermic, and caribou-less. (If there's anything that can bring joy to a hunter's heart it's being inside while your friends are catching hell outdoors.)
And that was about it. I don't know why I think of this unremarkable day so often, but there is a lesson here. We don't know how many days afield we are going to get, or which ones we will ultimately value the most, so it's best to appreciate all of them--good, bad, and ordinary.


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Mr. B

Maybe because it was just an ordinary day in an extraordinary place. Any place where you do not hear horn blowing in anger or stupidity is an extraordinary place to me.


If there is a Heaven I fervently pray it is a lot like that day in Alaska! Just the thought of being beyond reach of incessant cell phones! I can smell the woodsmoke now.


Dave you are making me pine away for a camp in the true wilderness. An ordinary day there is extraordinary in the life of me.

Dan D.


I agree. As strange as it seems, the highlight of my deerless season was a cold morning in Maine, watching flying squirrels harass eachother. Seeing the normally nocturnal squirrels gliding from the top of one dead tree to the bottom of another then climbing up and repeating just made me smile. There had to be half dozen of them and it certainly was a joy to take in this little glimpse of nature.


Blue Ox

This is so true...we never know how many days we're gonna have left. For the field or for anything. And it always seems to be the little things that you remember most, that didn't seem like such a big deal at the time. It's whan you look back that you realize nothing is trivial.


Any day in the woods is better then the best day at the office. Your blood pressure drops, your hearing improves, and you generally relax. And if you are lucky enough you get to see the local fauna. From the antics of the chipmunks, The lively raccoons and the occasional foraging skunk. To the majestic Bald Eagle, stately Deer and other large and small animals. Then you have the sights and smells of the woods. I have always enjoyed the smell of a pine forest whether it be cross country skiing in the winter to hikeing in the summer.

Tommy S.

That is awesome!
A freaking caribou.
A picturesque setting you create to make us wish for such adventures. Must be nice to be you.
I must admit extreme envy. I hope I get a chance to go to Alaska one day. My wife's boss is taking all of his practice and their spouses to Hawaii in 2009, but I would trade a week there for two or three days in Alaska in a heartbeat. Not to seem ungrateful, but man - Alaska!
The fishing...drool drool...the hunting...drool drool.

Great stuff.

Mike Diehl

I had a whole week like that back in 1992. I had a big game license in Maine, and no car, so I got dropped off at my father's cabin on Little Squaw Mtn of a Friday, and spent the next 9 days there. I was a college kid on break and everyone else had to leave and go back to work, so I had a week of living with and fending for myself.

It took me two days to detox from all the baloney of Real Life but the next 7 were great days. Capped it off when my dad returned the following Saturday, and when we were hunting together I took my first deer... with his favorite rifle... that he'd inherited from his father.

Mike Diehl

Sorry that should read "back in 1982."


I don't know who patrols for the Truth in Advertising law. I do know that Mr. Dave Petzal has violated that law! Isn't there something in the header about "Ranting and Raving"?

Hey, reading his column above brought me so many reveries of past hunting trips. Trips with friends, trips with my son.
Some of my most enjoyable days at camp were after I shot my deer. Split wood for the sauna. Wash the breakfast dishes, etc.

Going to camp meansa hellofa lot more than shooting animals!

Chad Love

A noted philosopher once said "When you stare into the abyss, it's awfully nice to do it alone, with a comfy chair and a nice drink."
Well actually, I'm lying. I just made that up. The second part, anyway. I'm sure Nietzsche didn't have a peaceful Alaskan river in mind, but he was completely bat#@it so what did he know?

Nice story. Speaks much to why we do what we do.


Go and do all you can when you are young as old age is not always the golden years.


The more complex the man, the greater the need for simple play.

Dave, if you feel the need to split and stack wood and build fires, I have plenty of trees available. I would even give you first dibs on a creek bottom black walnut.


Maybe that day stands out because you were able to slow down enough to enjoy the wonder around you. Carl Jung said, "Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil." You can't do the really important things in life in a hurry. Thanks for the good words, Dave.

Jim in Mo.

What a story.It took me back to probably the most serene 4 days I ever had in my life.
In '73 when I ETS'd from the Army I rented a home outside of town along the Missouri river. Just me heavy timber and the river. In 74 or 5 the Missouri had the audacity to do what the Corps of Engineers vowed they were going to stop. She gave them the finger, overflowed her banks and flooded anyway.
I got my girlfreind out but I boated back in.
It was glorious. Wildlife I hadn't seen appeared and didn't seem to care about me. There were birds galore and snakes seeking higher ground were hanging from the tree limbs. It was almost a spiritual thing.
I'd give anything to recreate those 4 days.


Jim in Mo.
I really enjoyed reading your post until you mentioned snakes in trees. I kind of lost interest there.


As DP wrote, Enjoy it while it last, folks. Signs of the End:

Book based on Three Little Pigs rejected for award after judges express concern that it might offend Muslims

--Headline in today's news


We all have days that for whatever reason stand out above others.

Some involve the killing of game, some are just enjoying the splendor of nature.

I've been fortunate to enjoy both and hope I will again.



My wife booked an African 11 day tour in Tanzania (Northern area)including Arusha,Ngorongoro crater, Serengeti, Lake manyara,and tangargire. Basically a canned sightseeing tour but she will let me break free for 2-3 days to hunt. The problem is we booked the trip for early march 2008 for the kids spring break and Tanzania's hunting season is closed. Is there a varmit hunt or game farm I can escape too maybe using local guides. Please let me hunt something in Africa


My best day was several seasons ago in the Catskills...got to my blind way before sun-up and sat while the weather turned fron snow to sleet to rain and back to smow. No cellphone or blackberry and venison chili for dinner with a good Islay scotch for desert.


Sorry I interupted your best day memory string I was just hopin to create one of my own hunting best day memory by hunting with some bushmen in Africa but I guess shooting a camera will have to do. I just hate to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to hunt in Africa


You didn't interupt anything. We're here to help! LOL I'm sure some one who is daydreaming about camp will have some ideas. Never been there so I can't help.
P.S. Its kinda neat to go from a daydream about hunting camp in MI to a safari in Zambia

Ralph the Rifleman

My best-est day afield was the year I took my boys deer hunting for the first time. We didn't get a deer for the freezer, but I recall how nice it was just spending a few days hunting with them.

tom warner

Dave: Like yourself, I have been blessed by being able to spend many, many, many such days all over north and also south America. I am unable to pinpoint any particular day of bliss among so many. But on each of these days I never fail to remind myself of how fortunate I have been. The majority of such days have been spent in true, or close to true, wilderness. If life were fair, most of your readers would also have that opportunity to spend time in wilderness. The main failing of our alleged "culture" is that it has stolen such opportunities away from most of us, and that is a shame. Most of our grandchildren sadly, will have no chance whatsoever. I believe that Thoreau said that in wilderness is the salvation of the world, and they are the truest words ever penned. Tom


Best days I recall is the last trip to Texas my Dad was able to make. He knew he didn't have much time left, and he told everyone he met that he was just glad to get out and enjoy the outdoors. He had spent the last 6 months in a hopsital. We made several trips together after he retired, but this was the one most remembered. He was always a better hunter than I, but I usually caught more fish. On our last day, he caught 10 fish to every one I caught. He had a gleen in his eye and you could tell he didn't want it to end. You really get to see what a peron is like on the inside when they know their time is near. He passed away just 3 months later...

It's not what you take hunting or fishing, but rather the enjoyment of the outdoors or the friendships you make along the way.


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