Interactions On The Pacific Crest Trail
“That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”
In 2017 I killed an above average bear while laying prone in the Pacific Crest Trail. It was shocking that we hadn’t seen a single person that morning as my 28 Nosler barked, breaking the spell of serenity that had gripped that beautiful August morning.
We had previously seen well over a hundred people coming and going through that stretch of remote wilderness. Most of those people were mere days away from completing their quest of completing the PCT. What an interesting and unique journey each of them had traveled to get to that point. Each hiker immersing themselves in completion of a task that likely seemed insurmountable at one point. I’ve known that feeling as a hunter too.
The previous day had us sitting near the trail glassing into a large open basin, seventeen miles from the trailhead. We hadn’t seen a bear, but we did meet Paul. Paul was from the Czech Republic and was fascinated by our goal. To hunt, in general, was a foreign concept to him. But to do it in such a remote locale captivated him. He sat for nearly ten minutes while we traded stories about his adventures and the relief at being nearly done. He told us about a bear he had seen three days earlier, which to a through hiker could easily mean eighty to a hundred miles back. But before long his feet called to keep moving and he was swept back onto the trail.
These are the interactions I have experienced. Others tell tales of confrontational situations where threats are made and words had. I’ve met, spoken with, and shared the trail with hundreds of non hunting purveyors of the backcountry over the years and been limited to a single poor encounter.
We had backpacked into the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington state while trying to turn up a late summer bear. While glassing from the ridge, a couple approached us as they finished the grueling climb. It appeared our presence immediately irritated them. I left my gun sitting there on it’s bipod and met them with a smile and a small joke about the lack of water and asked if they were dayhiking or camping. The situation deescalated immediately.
The woman then asked me if I knew I was hunting in a wilderness area, to which I affirmed. She then followed that up with an exclamation that hunting was most definitely not allowed in such places. I calmly disavowed her of such a notion, explaining that while parks were indeed off limits to hunting, wilderness areas were certainly fair game. The man perked up at this and asked if fishing was ok too, which I assured him it was.
After that, despite multiple side long glances at my rifle, they left amnicable and placated that we were not laying wanton waste to nature.
I have always found legitimate confusion as it relates to the line in the sand that seems to be drawn between hikers and hunters. While we are there in pursuit of game, we don’t have mutually exclusive goals. Most hunters who decide to hunt far from roads hold a high regard for the alpine. Certainly no less then the majority of hikers, we just interact on a slightly different level. Hunters have chosen to interact with nature on its most base level, and as such understand things differently. The hunter understands that nature is violent beneath her beautiful exterior and we choose to embrace and interact with that element.
That certainly does not detract or lessen the experiences hikers encounter each time they step foot into the mountains. They experience things on a different plane then hunters. A hiker doesn’t need to be constantly vigilant in scanning for game and focusing on ear twitches at nine hundred yards. The hiker interacts on a cerebral level, call it big picture or larger view. Their days are not dictated by animal cycles, but instead their own.
But we should be interacting and appreciating these wild places together. The hunter should not look down in disdain and immediate assumption that the hikers hate their existence. The hiker should avoid the trap of assuming the hunter fits the typical trope of a redneck road hunter killing and leaving animals to die and suffer.
I encourage my hiker friends to reach out and see how the other side lives, and let’s work together to keep these places we love, wild.