I was in the preparation phase of my first-ever High Cascade buck hunt. I’d read a great deal, done a careful map study and now was ready to ask questions of a man who had hunted the country many times.
It is important to study up before asking questions. It might be all right to arrive at school classes unprepared, but not when you are asking questions about hunting or fishing. If you haven’t cared enough to prepare, your source won’t care enough to provide good information.
Not that careful preparation on your part will guarantee you’ll get a good scoop. It will just make the possibility more likely. You’ll still need to find someone willing to help you, and those folks tend to be widely spaced, if not downright rare, as I was about to be reminded.
"So, Charlie, I just got my first tag in the High Cascades. I know you’ve hunted up there for years. What can you tell me?"
"There aren’t many animals up there anymore."
Translation: I’d rather keep the entire Cascades region to myself and the only reason I’m talking to you at all is because we’ve known each other for almost 30 years.
"Yes, I know, but that’s my tag so that’s where I’ll hunt."
"Hunt high," he said.
Translation: Here’s a bone, be satisfied.
This is actually good information, though it’s so basic as to be insulting.
"Great, thanks." Minimal sarcasm. "Anything else?"
Translation: Haven't you gotten the message yet?
"Gee, thanks." Somewhat thicker sarcasm.
Translation: Don’t wait for your Christmas card.
Charlie is a classic example of one of the most common types of outdoor information providers. No matter how much they talk, they say very little.
His position is understandable, if hard-hearted. Information he provides may help me kill a nice buck, a buck he might otherwise have taken. And I may share the information with friends and family. In five years' time his favorite spot could be overrun by strangers.
Personally I would have preferred Charlie simply refuse to give me any information at all, rather than waste my time. I once heard a friend of mine tell a particularly pushy and clueless pilgrim, "I spent the last 30 years learning this country. You need to pay your own dues."
His response was much more honest and refreshing than Charlie’s, and in truth, much better received.
Yet another response I’ve heard has been outright lying. Several times I have watched as hunters sent new people in exactly the wrong direction.
Sometimes, the people asking for help are just going through the motions and not really paying attention. They get no benefit even from good advice.
A gentleman from Michigan contacted me a while back for information about chukar hunting. He had read my book on the subject, he said. He was really impressed and wondered if I might help him plan a weeklong hunt to Oregon.
Sure, I told him, just hunt the hills along Brownlee Reservoir between Huntington and Richland, and then hunt along the Malheur River between Juntura and Harper Valley.
But could I be more specific, he wanted to know.
Well, sure. Chukars move around a lot so there was little danger of hotspotting a single covey. So I gave him the exact location of one of my favorite spots.
Late that night he called me. "Never saw a bird," he said.
I gave him another location. He called again that night with no birds. He was becoming frustrated. So was I.
Finally I gave him my very best hunting location, hoping for maximum success.
When he called that night he sounded less disappointed and more disgusted, as though I had led him astray.
He had blisters on both feet and his dog was limping badly. What was worse, when he finally arrived at the top of the hill to which I directed him, there was nothing up there but rocks and sagebrush.
"What were you expecting?" I asked. Rocks and sagebrush are where chukars live.
"I’ve got to rest a few days," he told me. "But can you point me towards easier hunting?"
I told him about fee pheasant hunting near Pendleton, and then as an added bonus I gave him coordinates for a great new quail hunting spot. Had he traveled to those coordinates he would’ve ended up in the middle of the Columbia River.