By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer
There is a magnet on the fridge in my childhood home that reads: “We interrupt this marriage to bring you hunting season.”
Yes, it’s meant to be funny, but it also holds a lot of truth. Hunting season — specifically, elk season — in the Kiebert household means camouflage backpacks strewn across the living room, several men talking over breakfast in the living room at 5 a.m. and phone calls at all hours of the day from family and friends wondering, “Has anyone killed anything yet?”
This is not exactly the stuff of everyday life, but we all make the necessary adjustments. The magnet should really read, “We interrupt the lives of everyone present to bring you hunting season.” And from Oct. 10 to Oct. 24, life continues as such.
My sisters and I were all elbow-deep in freshly-ground elk burger from the time we could walk, and soon we were handed knives and taught the delicate process of cutting away tendons, gristle and anything else that shouldn’t be thrown in the grinder.
We’ve all gone through our various phases. After I earned my hunting license at nine years old, I tired of elk hunting pretty quickly. There was so much hiking, and it was so cold while sitting and waiting for my dad to push the elk my way. And it was scary. I sit here for two hours, and then suddenly a big elk comes crashing through the woods, and I’m supposed to shoot it right in the lungs? Talk about some high stakes.
My little sister, Leslie, was different. She seemed to live for the high stakes and killed elk consistently once she was big enough to carry a rifle. The youngest of us, Ellie, just recently decided to invest in elk season, surprising us all by waking up before the sun to hunt on opening day. As of this season, we’ve all been out a few times, though none of us have had any luck in the tag-filling department.
Through all our phases, my dad never failed to make each day of elk season a teaching moment. Whether hunting, packing or butchering, he made sure we learned what it meant to carry on the tradition of hunting in Hope, Idaho, just like so many Kieberts have.
First, I learned to respect my weapon.
I carry my great-great-grandfather’s Remington 700 .308 rifle. It has my dad’s initials etched into the trigger guard — “T.K.” — and a leather cord holding the gunstrap in place. It’s an antique, really, but it shoots straight, and I never forget how lucky I am to pack it.
From the time we are toddlers, kids in my family learn that guns — even toys, or unloaded weapons — aren’t to be pointed at people. This lesson proved useful this season, when a family member’s gun misfired back at the truck while they were unloading it. Gun knowledge is invaluable, and being from a family of hunters made those lessons readily available to me.
Second, I learned to be patient.
“Just stop and watch” is one of my dad’s catch phrases during elk season. We take 10 steps up the logging road, then we stop and watch. You never know when a bedded cow elk will make their break, or an antler will materialize through the timber.
I am not a patient person. I am, sadly, a lover of instant gratification. Elk season is the one time a year when I take stock of my ability to be patient. But last weekend, after having hiked, stopped and watched for hours over the course of three days to see nothing but a few grouse, I can say my patience — at least as far as hunting goes — is well intact, and I can’t wait to get back to it this weekend.
Third, I learned to appreciate hard work.
My legs, sides and arms will ache. I’ll be cold, tired and my butt will certainly be damp from sitting on the wet forest floor. Hunting is never easy, so long as you’re doing it my dad’s way: “On the elk’s terms.” Up steep inclines, over blow-downs, through thick brush. Elk country.
The kill isn’t the end of that hard work, either. There’s the gutting, the pack-out and then the butchering. It isn’t until the meat is wrapped in paper, labeled and tucked into the chest freezer that the hard work is done — but nothing tastes better than an elk steak you’ve seen through from start to finish.
And finally, I learned the importance of story.
A hunting story coming from my dad’s mouth can last anywhere between three and 10 minutes. If the listener is paying attention, they won’t only learn who killed the elk, but also what game trails and old skid trails they took to get there, who helped move the elk that day, what the weather was like and how the land has changed since. They’ll hear about the rifle, the kill shot and who helped get the animal out of the woods that day. A single hunting story can be a history lesson about a mountain. As a journalist, my whole life is made of stories, and as an elk hunter, I can still say the same.
To all North Idaho elk hunters: Thank you for carrying on this important tradition. And no, I will not tell you where I harvested that bull.
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