The grouse flew straight up through a funnel of pine toward a patch of blue sky like feathered corkscrews, and we raised our guns, Honer and me, knocking the birds back down to the ground.
They plopped in the needle duff between us, flurrying their wings, as ruffed grouse are prone to, until their brains said they’re dead, and we knew we had muffed it.
The gunshots would alert the landowner who we saw sidling over his section of land on horseback not 10 minutes ago.
We were kids hoisting 12 gauge, 3-inch magnum, hardware-store fowling pieces, leading an assortment of mongrel pointing mutts. We had sneaked every weekend onto fenced ranch land, privately owned, to call ducks and geese and flush grouse. We carried slugs in our back pockets for deer, in case they were needed.
We had done this for many weeks each autumn for a couple of years without incident but now, there he was, with an entourage, the landowner on a brown bay, his saddle squeaking, his guests sharing a moment of piety as they looked down from their saddles at Honer and me and the birds we hung from our belts.
Our guns faintly smoked.
Red-handed, as they say, is what we were.
The landowner, a businessman whose nationally known company was headquarted in the city a few hours away, looked us over and asked how we had come to be on his land without permission, and shooting his birds to boot.
We didn’t have much of an answer, Honer and me. We collared our dogs, promising we wouldn’t return, crossing our fingers, our eyes, our boot straps, yeah that.
Years later, as a ranch hand on another property, it was my odious assignment to kick hunters off the land, and I wasn’t much good at it.
They weren’t a whole lot different than me at 15, and the land was broad, so I punted.
“You’re on private property you know.”
“Yeah, we just tracked a wounded deer across.”
“That your tree stand?”
“Well, … uh huh.”
“Probably should take it down when you go.”
The new Idaho trespassing rules have given hunters in a state where hunting on another’s property was sort of a right of passage for years — it was neighborly and everyone knew it — a queer jolt.
Most land was haphazardly posted if at all, and it wasn’t fenced, and most landowners took the same tack as me when confronting a hunter on land where they paid the taxes.
But I met a hunter the other day who voiced his consternation with the latest version of the law. We both stood on state land mulling the terribleness of being itinerant.
Being shot on sight was erroneously mentioned.
For the many landless hunters out there, there is, however, a silver lining to living in the new Idaho. It is called endowment lands. We already in North Idaho boast more federal land open to hunters than we deserve:
Three million acres. Say, what?
And a recent pact between the Idaho Fish and Game and the Department of Lands puts 2.3 million additional acres of Idaho in our back pocket, in case they are needed.
There is enough of this public ground that hunters can be there for days without seeing another.
They can run dogs, shoot birds, elk and deer without confrontation.
And no one has to ask for permission.
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Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at email@example.com.