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You've Made It

by Marc Taylor

A very groggy man bolts upright from the comfortable rest, his back having been against his backpack with his rifle across his lap. Strange to have fallen into such a deep sleep during a hunt-nap. Hunt-naps are necessary and pretty difficult to avoid sometimes, but that was deep, he thinks.

He stands and takes a full survey of his surroundings, near-to-far in case any thing or anybody has snuck up on him during what was such deep slumber. There is an unfamiliar tingling in his hip, very annoying, and must have been caused by the way the rifle was positioned across his lap. It's difficult to remember whether or not the rifle is loaded, so he gently lifts the bolt handle and partially pulls the bolt to the rear in hopes of revealing the shiny brass of a loaded shell.

Nothing there.

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You knucklehead, he whispers aloud. He's been known to pull such stunts in the past under the pressure of the pure excitement of the hunt, but this time, the details were lost. He had barely a recollection of where he was, near the edge of the rolling tundra that goes on for miles and miles. He turned to survey what lay behind him before reaching down to inspect his pack for the ammunition which surely must be there.

Nothing.

You've got to be kidding me! With a bit more frustration this time.

How could I have come here without shells? He exclaimed.

The frustration of the moment must have taken over, because he staggers slightly, feeling a bit light-headed. Only one thing to do, return to camp and get shells, and quick, before the animals get here.
He packs the disheveled belongings and starts toward the river and the distant camp beyond that hazy ridge.

The hip was bothering him constantly, but was no match for his desire to be back at camp. With his luck, and just about now, the largest of all moose, or was it caribou that he is hunting (?) would amble by without a care in the world.

"Big Country," as his close friends referred to him, in a great way was just not considered to be having one of his luckier days. But it was sure to get better.

He reached the edge of the river, which was more like a large creek this far up into the tundra. Its banks were made of soft sand, and crumbled slowly as he made his way down toward the running water. There were game tracks everywhere, and in his fog he couldn't remember having seen them on the way out. The water, surely running toward the very distant ocean, was crystal clear, and large salmon, probably King salmon, were gathered in a pool a few yards upstream. They were clearly visible and seemed to turn to give him their attention. Odd, he thought.

Big country traveled downstream, there were small white caps of water rushing over rocks that lay beneath. It looked deeper than it actually was, and he glided over the surface, barely getting his feet wet. Not even a caribou could pull that off, he thought, as he reached the far bank, continuing into the trees on the camp side of the river.

The trees were a mix of birch and willow, and the going through that stuff is always tough. However, his memory must have created the path that he currently traveled, as it seemed to spread ahead of him. He got caught up in the moment and had forgotten the hip and leg that had been troubling him. That had all faded now into a distant memory, as he began the moderate climb toward the top of the ridge... And camp.

Near the top he slowed his pace and should have been catching his breath, as climbing always tired Big Country, aptly named because he is a big ole' boy. He proceeded as if walking on air, slinging the bow that he has been carrying over his shoulder to give whomever might see him approaching camp the feeling that he had accomplished something, not needing to be so cautious as he approached to within the prying eyes of whomever may be there, waiting for him.

He is within shouting distance of the camp now, and there's a fire burning. Smoke drifts lazily from the smokestack that protrudes from the large, white tent. It looks sort of out-of-place in such a natural, beautiful land, but he continues toward it with determined resolve to right the wrongs which the hunting Gods have bestowed upon him on this day.

There is a frail, elderly man at the drawn door to the tent, he's wearing a bright flannel shirt and sports a fedora-type hat so familiar to the aged hunters of the old days. The person lifts his hand in a friendly, seemingly loving wave which reminds him of the grandfather he lost as a young teenager.

"Welcome, Jason. I've missed you, Son."

"Papa, what are you doing here?!" said Jason, taken aback by the presence of the man whose memory was instrumental in shaping him into the kind, respectful man that he was.

"We're hunting, Son. Remember how I told you many years ago that we would someday hunt together again. I knew you would come, and I've been waiting. I just didn't expect you so soon." Said the gentle old man.

"This is very scary, Papa, just where are we, and what are we supposed to be hunting?"

"We're hunting whatever your soul desires, or we're fishing for whatever your heart desires, if that's what you want to do."

A loud bark is heard, as a large, gray-nosed German Shepherd excitedly rushes up from around the tent to greet Big Country.

"You've made it. Son, we've made it to the "Happy Hunting Ground. Were you looking for these?" And the old man offers the now smiling hunter a handful of shells.

This story is dedicated to the memory of Tech. Sgt. Jason L. Norton, "Big Country" (BgCountry on the Alaska Outdoors Forums and elsewhere), whose life was abruptly ended on January 22, 2006 while serving his country honorably in Iraq. Marc Taylor is the author of Hunting Hard in Alaska

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