I was reminiscing, recently, about when I first moved to Jackson Hole Wyoming “the best of the old west,” a truly amazing place up in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Jackson Hole lies at the foot of Grand Teton Mountains, a range that serrates the western sky in a most dramatic way. The mighty Snake River originates just north of Jackson Hole in Yellowstone and has picked up where the glaciers left off and has played a major part in putting the finishing touches on carving the valley.
The mountains and valleys of the Jackson Hole region host a plethora of wildlife. Elk number in the thousands, there are mule deer on the buttes, moose up the canyons, bighorn sheep on the peaks, bald eagles nesting above the rivers, antelope on the flats, bears hiding behind the trees, bison wandering from here to there and trophy trout in the rivers waiting for a fly. As the best of the old west, real cowboys still out number the drug store types and it’s not uncommon to see a mountain man walking the streets.
Jackson Hole Wildlife
On the down side in January it is colder than a mother in-laws kiss, the absence of tourists in spring and fall brings financial hardships rougher than a half-round bastard file. Thunderstorms in summer bring winds that blow so hard I have to put the saddle over my horse’s ass to keep the bit from blowing out of his mouth. The billionaires are pushing out the millionaires, so there is nary a place for a workingman to hang his hat. The cost of living is so high that many run out on the bill. All this adversity makes a person feel as though he is alive.
A place so colorful made me want to become a part of it. So I bought me a Resistol hat, and a horse, and I tried to blend in the best I could. I rented me a log cabin on Chancy Wheeldon’s Mill Iron Ranchand proceeded to learn about western living by trial and error, my graduate school at the school of hard knocks.
Chancy is a character of true western tradition. He was a pro rodeo finals saddle bronc rider in 75 and 77. He is quick of wit and quick to laugh, hard working and hard playing. Eager to tease a greenhorn but good enough to teach him a few things. He hired me to help out around the ranch, probably so he could laugh at my antics. His father Clark was cut of the same cloth. He was a master of country rhetoric and couldn’t really remember if he went to Penn State or state pen.
Daryl L. Hunter with his horse Skip in the Gros Venture Wilderness west of Jackson Hole Wyoming
I could have bought a tamer horse, but I couldn’t have bought a prettier one. Besides after getting bucked off so often I walked like some of the cowboys, kind of slow with an imperceptible limp. But, I suppose I might have blended in better had I spent more time on my horse instead of flat on the ground at his feet. After a while the horse and I developed an understanding, he understood I was green and I understood he was spooky and that my life depended on developing a death grip on the saddle horn. Then, I got to see some country. My new back yard was the Gros Venture Wilderness, behind my cabin, and I rode all over it that summer and never saw a soul, what a feeling, looking around me I felt as though I was in a Coors Beer or Marlboro commercial. The scenery was stunning and my solo sojourns into the wilderness were exhilarating.
Clark Wheeldon and his dog Rat hunting in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Jackson Hole Wyoming
Jackson Hole is hunting country. It has the biggest elk herd in the Rocky Mountains, and nobody could hunt them better than Clark and Chancy Wheeldon. Their family has been guiding hunters in Jackson Hole’s mountains for going on five generations now and that summer they told me a lot about hunting. So I figured, come hunting season I would give it a try.
Since I planned to shoot an elk, I would need a gun so I borrowed one from my grandfather, a model 1895 Winchester 30.06 with a peep sight. With a peep sight I would need some eyeglasses. My brother Gene is an Optician so I called him and told him I needed some glasses and gave him my prescription, 20-20 in my left eye and 20-80 in my right eye. He told me I didn’t need glasses; I just needed to learn to shoot with my other eye. Big help he was.
Daryl L. Hunter sitting at the fire in hunting camp up Horse Creek in the Gros Ventre Wilderness
When I went to get a license there weren’t any bull elk permits left so I bought an antlerless elk license. Chancy told me he would take me out and help me get a good cow elk. I figured I would like to get one on my own to prove I could do it. After all, I was learning the country and I knew quite a bit about hunting since I had been talking about it all summer. If I hunted every morning on foot for a couple of hours before breakfast, I could lose a few pounds. A lot better than my 1982 bicycling for beer program, I would think!
September brought an abrupt change in the weather. An early snow hastened the onslaught of fall colors, a dazzling display of golden aspens, yellow cottonwoods, and scarlet mountain maples. On opening morning, I got up at 5:30 and went to hunt the hill outside my cabin. It was a frosty world that met me at the door, so I dressed appropriately, after ten minutes and 500 vertical feet I found myself carrying my jacket, down vest, and Pendleton. I hiked, panted, and sweated up through golden Aspen groves, spruce thickets, and fir forests. The magpies kept all the creatures of the forest abreast of my progress, and then I saw it, despite the warning from the Magpie, a nice cow elk walking along a ridge 100 yards to the east, the morning sun behind her was in my eyes to the west. I raise my gun, then she disappeared into some trees, with my gun leveled, I follow what I thought would be her path of travel through trees, Then I see an elk standing there, head on, looking at me. I shoot; a buck deer sized elk calf falls to the ground. Oops, I really need those glasses.
It was all gone in one shot instant, the chance to prove myself a hunter, my ego, and my exercise program. And for what? The best tasting wild meat I had ever tasted! I guess you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I guess I would have been out of character had it turned out any other way.