Shooting for a memorable season

We’ve suddenly turned the calendar to September and the fall hunting seasons are coming at us like a freight train, and that’s if you don’t count squirrel season, which opened today as I type this. I don’t count it; when the temperatures are well into the 80s – and sometimes they hit that during the early days of the Southern Tier archery season – I don’t consider it hunting season, no matter what the calendar says.

But I have, in fact, been shooting something every day. Usually it’s the bow, maybe because that’s the easiest session, just jumping out back and flinging a few arrows into the bag target. But it has been the shotgun all summer as well, as Paula and I have hit the trap range with some regularity, looking ahead to the days when our Lab pup Finleigh learns the pheasant hunting game. That could happen even during the late seasons in New York and Pennsylvania; she’ll be about six months old by then, and if we head afield with tempered expectations we could have some great fun and maybe be surprised by Finleigh’s work.

I’ve also been shooting my rifle much more than usual, not in preparation for the firearms deer season but for a November elk hunt in the state of Washington. In a normal year I wouldn’t grab the .270 until a couple weeks before the season; my shot selection is such that a serious pre-season shooting regimen isn’t required.

But a Washington elk hunt, in the big country where the Roosevelt elk roam, is a step outside my comfort level. A welcome step, for sure, but I’ve never been a long-range guy and am now faced with the prospect of executing a 200-yard shot, maybe more.

I’ve been here before. Back in the early 1990s Paula and I took a Newfoundland moose hunting trip, and I spent the entire summer shooting offhand, usually at woodchucks on a friend’s farm. I can honestly say I became a decent rifle shooter, and headed to The Rock with supreme confidence. I ended up with a 40-yard, quartering-away shot on a fine bull, but I was prepared for much more.

That will likely be the case this time around, but right now I’m a long way from where I want to be as far as my 100-yard groups. And I haven’t even begun to stretch it out to 200, so that should tell you something.

Throw in the need to prepare myself physically for this trip – we’ll be hunting pretty much in view of Mount St. Helens of volcanic activity fame – and you can see how easily it would be to go into panic mode. In just over 60 days I’ll be tent camping in the high country of Washington state for over a week, and while there’s no doubt I can handle the physical element for a day, I have to be in the kind of condition that allows me to rebound quickly, crawl out of the sleeping bag the next morning and do it all over again. Thirty years ago that would be a non-issue, but I’m now at that age where I have to work at it.

So I shoot. And hike. And pound out pushups until my arms are jelly. There is no real schedule to it all; since my productive work time is in the morning, I’m often trudging up hills during the heat of the day, and at the shooting range well into the evening. Toss a 12-week-old Lab puppy and some beefy issues of New York Outdoor News of late and you can see how things are getting pretty hectic around here.

It may come to the point where my archery season takes a bit of a back seat to my elk hunt prep. That’s a good tradeoff and hopefully it will pay off come November. I’ll still find some treestand time in both New York and Pa., but may have to sacrifice a day here and there for some rifle range time and a fitness regimen – which, I might add, involves a few dietary considerations, like just one ice cream cone per week. Sunday night. Trust me, that one I have marked on my calendar.

So I shoot. And hike. And shoot. And dream of another memorable season, this one with a special adventure looming.

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