By Chuck Nottingham
Because I write some hunting-shooting columns and help instruct hunter-firearms safety, lots of comments about Montana shooting and hunting get tossed my way.
Outdoor e-mailers and chat-rooms get downright weepy with envy.
Descriptions of Hill County Shooting Sports Recreation Area's archery, handgun, rifle, and silhouette ranges -- all open for $10 -- draws "Lucky you!" Some say, "Ten bucks is about what we pay for a couple range hours, but ours isn't multipurpose nor close-by like yours."
When they learn our local fee's not $10 per time, but $10 per year, responses run from disbelief to sobs.
Another "Lucky you" goes to each of our local Veterans of Foreign Wars junior rifle program, 4-H shooting and safety, JayCee air gun competition, Bullhook Bottoms Black Powder Club rendezvouses, Havre Rifle & Pistol Club activities, Havre Trap Club shoots, and Fish, Wildlife & Parks firearms and archery hunter education.
Out-of-staters ask, "Havre's a really big city?"
"You bet," I crow. "Top ten in Montana. Near 11,000 good people."
"You mean '111,000'?"
When I repeat eleven thousand, most agree. For shooters, Havre truly has it.
"Hunting any good thereabouts?" asks an easterner.
"My wife's happy with her 10-point muley this year," I type. "Mine's a 7-point, and my son bagged a fine 5-point. All within 50 miles. Two 'lopes, too. Lots of birds and bunnies. Like to see photos?"
After I punch send, the easterner fires back, "You can't count, guy! The lady's kneeling behind a 19-pointer! Your buck's got 14 points, and your son's has 11."
I explain western antler count. We tally one side for tines big enough to hang a ring on -- eye-guards don't count.
Another city-dweller catches on. "So both tan 'n' white deer with black antlers are 2-pointers?"
"No, they're pronghorn." I get to brag up our grassland ghosts with hyper-gallop. And horns, mind you--not antlers.
Another exclaims, "Never knew elk got so huge!" Someone else says, "That bird's big as a B-1 bomber!"
I love hearing how lucky we are. Not only do most pay more and travel farther to shoot and hunt less, but rules and regulations can get restrictive.
For some, gun storage, transportation, and carry requires two lawyers and a Brinks armored truck. For others, type and size are intensely scrutinized. Anything with a "pistol" grip gets a swarm of SWAT teams. "Shotgun only" states are common.
Urban expansion gobbles game and non-game habitats. Hunting halts, and animals morph into pests.
But not all correspondence is compliments. Some hate guns. Shooting experiences of so many are provided by Hollywood. Bores get bigger, designs grow more outlandish, and firepower escalates exponentially. Heros, heroines, thugs, and thugettes arrogantly brandish guns sideways. Super-cool, but just another bad habit for novices to unlearn. Same goes for reckless waving of loaded guns while fingers caress triggers. It's not real, but such images teach the impressionable and threaten the gullible.
Exposure to wildlife can be Disneyish depictions of gentle herbivores in perpetual summers of abundant grass. Clownish predators chase savvy prey to no avail. Let's hope film crews ordered out for the carnivores.
Human hunters are invariably unshaven and ignorant (though somehow well-off) louts blasting blindly at everything that moves.
Mainstream media bolsters bogus portrayals as gospel. Since even mild innuendo towards the wrong racial, ethnic, sexual or organizational element can draw fiery wrath, some journalists -- like some politicians -- find stereotypes of shooters and hunters safer targets for cheap shots.
And conversations go:
"So you slaughter defenseless animals do you? Why?"
"Two of many reasons some hunt are food and clothing, but I take it you're vegetarian, and only wear synthetics?"
"No, but I get hamburger at supermarkets -- shoes and gloves at shops. No one murders for them!"
"I see. Thoughtful animals just wander into meat departments and tanneries to expire?"
"Huh? Well ... yeah! Why else expiration dates?"
Be that as it may, the "expiration date" on my hunting license said "USE BY NOVEMBER 28." Sadly for me, the 1999 season was over last Sunday.
But lucky for me I live in Montana, and this week I start getting ready for Season 2000. Let's do that together on these pages every couple weeks.
You'll feel lucky, too.
E-mail always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.