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Brink Kuchenbrod

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Montana Mountain Lion

October 23, 2014 - Never know what you'll come across when you get outside...(scroll down to see more)

My latest mountain lion photo, Fall 2014


Hunting Story

October 8, 2014 - Hunting Story (scroll down to read it...)

The bark of a tree mangled from antlers.

Hauled my sleeping bag, a pad, and a tarp up there along with the usual stuff so that I could spend the night with them. Those elk were there and I knew where they'd be headed in the morning.

That night I fell into a deep sleep on the ground of a treeless ridge, despite the lights of Missoula in the distance and a bright moon. I dreamed of an old woman from India who kept asking me in the beautiful syllables of her accent, "Why? Why do you want to kill those elk?" I tried to answer, but although I have plenty of answers for this question, my dream mouth wouldn't work, like when my dream feet can't run. Symbols? Cymbals? She was all those people from a different culture who ask that question, but never listen to the answers.

The moon set and the stars intensified. Hello, Milky Way. During a waking moment I slipped on my glasses and they fogged immediately from my heat, then slowly cleared to reveal a starry sight we evolved with, made stories about.

Near dawn, my alarm rang, but it was so warm and toasty in my bag and I was in love with such deep sleep with cold cheeks and a quiet, lonesome sky. I loved the howl of one wolf far away. But, I knew where those elk were going to be and I didn't want to be late, so I scurried about my little camp by the light of a headlamp and gathered my gear.

I hiked through darkness and found my spot and sat down to wait in a river of cold air running downhill through this damp draw. I smelled old elk smells. I heard dry grass tinkle with approaching whitetails and watched a little buck drink. Then, I started to doubt. But then, I heard a different sound: not birds rustling in yellow leaves or squirrels scratching around in the pines or the daintiness of deer or the muffled exhalation of distant shotgun blasts. I heard a clunk, a snap, a clop, and big bodies approached. I could see their tan hides sliding right toward me, ears and eyes calm.

My mind raced, and not with the ancestral excitement of a pending kill. My mind raced because of all the ways they could come, this was not the right way, people. It was too brushy, no worn path, and those calm sliding bodies stopped and stiffened when that river of cold air that had just blown over me, wafted over them.

What did they smell? It's impossible for us to know since our own noses are thousands of times less sensitive, but if it looked like something, that smell, to them, it would look like an Irish Setter with some Black Coffee "Vinyl" roast and the inside of an old Ford and some dishwashing soap and an El Diablo burrito and two kids and a mortgage and perhaps a skinny bowhunter. If you're an elk, this smell is out of place like a clown suit at a funeral and instantly induces panic.

I felt sad at all of their unsure maneuvering as they went on red alert. I felt embarrassed at their alarm noise: yes, barking, a sound of failure like a car skidding and crashing.

The nice old lady from India asked me the question again, "Why? Why kill?" My ideals spun around, my ethics, my philosophy, my ancestors flashed past. Words. Ideas. The predatory configuration of my eyeballs. North American conservation model righting the wrongs. Wildlife management. Hunting is conservation. Convenience is our sin. John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, bless their visionary hearts. Connection to the natural process. Taxes. Licenses. Blah, blah, blah. A squirrel chattered. I just looked at her and smiled as politely as I could.

Sheds and a Bear Story

June 9, 2014 - Here are some great elk sheds I found this spring and a story about a bear. Get outside!(scroll down to see more)

Great elk sheds, Spring 2014

A story: I discovered a really good spot to see bears... so, I went up there again. Elk were mewing all around me. And, ding, I saw a bear. I like to see bears. (And yes, I had a bear tag and my rifle, but this isn't a hunting story, and the bear lives. Thanks.) I made careful mental notes of where that bear should be once I dropped into the big draw between us and I emerged on his side. Sure enough, as that spot grew visible on that convex slope, there he was munching greens like a pig, a close genetic relative.

What did I do? I sat down and watched the little guy be a bear at fairly close range. He had no idea I was there and I just like this kind of stuff. A slight breeze blew down hill as the evening cooled and that's when the barking began, not from dogs, but from the elk below me who could now smell me and sounded their alarm. And the bear jerked it's head up and stared in the direction of the barking, not in a curious manner at all, but in a, "Whoa, what's going on? Should I be scared?" kind of a way. Panic. He paced a little keeping his eye on the direction of the elk. He made quick glances side to side and finally bolted into the timber. So I stood up and followed him.

In doing this I saw the two bull elk making all the noise. Though on high alert, they didn't see me yet, so I watched them with their sleek spring coats and nubby velvet antlers. I swear, this time of year they look like wet seals, no extra fur and ready to keep big bodies cool in the summer heat. Once I resumed crunching after the bear, they found their reason to run and crashed to safety. (Hunters in Western Montana know this sound.)

Then it was quiet again, just the slight rustle of a cooling mountain, and I made my way toward that little bear and found him not far away staring right at me with what now seemed to be a very relaxed posture, "Oh, it's just you? I thought it was something scary." Hmmmm.

Anyway, why do I bother tapping this out? It's this: Sometimes you should go outside, not to run, or ride, or hike, or walk the dog, or anything like that. Just go out there and be a part of it. Sneak a little, listen carefully, keep your eyes wide open, pause to watch a distant slope with binoculars. This is rewarding stuff and it shouldn't just be the domain of people packing tags and guns. It's for everyone.

by Brink Kuchenbrod

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