Smokey Merkley

Several years ago, I asked a friend why he didn’t hunt anymore. He said he stopped hunting because the mountains kept getting steeper and harder to climb. I made a decision that day to never get to the point that the mountains would seem any steeper each year.

I am now about the same age my friend was when I asked him that question several years ago. So far, the mountains seem to be about the same angle they have always been — namely, straight up and down.

I guess my exercise program is working pretty well, but I have noticed that a bunch of teenagers that ride their mountain bikes on the same trails that I do have been passing me up and seem to be a little irritated with me on single track trails. They also call me dirty names, like “grandpa.” However, that isn’t because the mountains are getting any steeper. I’m just not in as big a hurry as those kids. I like riding a little slower and enjoying my surroundings more than they do.

I also like to stop at various points and take large gulps of fresh mountain air while looking over the ridges and valleys I can see. Sometimes after I stop for a minute, some kid rides by and wants to know if I’m all right.

Scouting for game before the hunting season starts is better. I’m usually by myself or maybe with one other person who is closer to my age than those mountain biking kids. I can walk and spend as much time as I want looking for game or signs of game with out anyone calling me grandpa or yelling at me to get out of the way.

I have also started using trekking poles while I am scouting for game or hunting, but that’s is because many outdoorsmen are advocating the use of walking or trekking poles while traveling through the backcountry. Besides, they give your hands, arms and shoulders good exercise while wearing a day pack and carrying a rifle over one shoulder.

If I am carrying food, a camp stove, extra clothes, a first-aid kit, energy bars, a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and other necessities such as water, binoculars, topographic map and compass into a base camp, I use a larger backpack to get what I need into camp and then I switch to a day pack for hunting once my camp is set up. Those trekking poles really help me stay stable while I climb up the mountain, getting the larger pack into the base camp. Still, the mountains are the same as they have always been. Straight up and down.

I do like to sleep in a little more than I did when I was younger, but that is because I camp pretty close to the area I plan to hunt, and the walk to where I want to be when game starts moving isn’t as far as it was when I was younger, so I don’t have to start as early as I did a few years ago in order to be ready once it gets light enough to hunt. Besides, getting out of the sleeping bag at 4 a.m. on those cold October or November mornings and waiting somewhere until it is light enough to hunt is pure lunacy.

If it is raining, I don’t bother to get up before 6 or 6:30 a.m. I don’t mind hunting when it is raining because I have good rain gear. I usually have a pretty good idea where to find game when it is raining and wet, but I’m not going to try and navigate around the area when it is dark, rainy and wet, even with trekking poles.

I’m convinced that my plan to stay active all year long where I do a workout and exercise regimen three days each week, hike, scout for game and ride a mountain bike from June to October, hunt during October and sometimes November also, start winter activities like skiing, snow shoeing, from January to March or April, and keep up my weekly workouts during May is working to keep me in good enough condition. After all, the mountains are always pretty much the same no matter what season it is or what age I am. They remain straight up and down.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.