Luck of draw not always good fortune

The costs could be high for new options in Washington and Montana that allow hunters to submit multiple applications for big-game hunting permits.

Savings accounts could take a beating. Ditto for a hunter’s work, marriage and ego.

Applications are due Wednesday for Washington’s 2010 applications and June 1 in Montana.

The main function of the new systems is to raise more money for wildlife agencies. Washington officials say they’re earmarking the dough to boost hunter access to private land.

Maybe some of the money should be set aside for treating hunters suffering from multi-permit disease.

Starting this fall, some elk hunters, for example, could draw separate permits for bull, cow, quality and perhaps another category, such as senior or master hunter – all valid during a single season.

The options could send your life into a tailspin.

I know this because I shared dinner in a wall tent in the Blue Mountains last October with Steve Brown. The Vancouver landscaper had won the highly coveted Washington raffle elk tag that allowed him to hunt for bulls with any weapon from Sept. 1-Dec. 31 in virtually any East Side unit where the state allows bulls to be hunted.

In addition, he was one of 600 hunters who drew a multi-season elk tag, which allowed him to hunt liberally on the West Side.

In other words, Brown had a four-month season to hunt elk state-wide, often at times when he would be the only legal elk hunter in the area.

It nearly killed him.

“Having these tags puts a lot of pressure on you,” he said as he slumped back on his cot after dinner in his tent camp near Dayton.

He’d just made his nightly cell-phone call to his wife and sensed her concern for the amount of vacation his hunting was carving out of their chances for a vacation together.

“And my friends assume that, because I have these tags, I’d be a loser if I don’t bag one or two monster bulls.”

Brown had suffered a string of bad luck along with the good fortune of drawing the coveted tags.

“I was mainly interested in the benefit of being able to hunt Eastern Washington bulls during the rut with a modern rifle,” he said. “That’s a rare dream hunt nowadays.”

But he passed up two big herd bulls during the September rut when the period he’d blocked out for hunting coincided with a heat wave.

“It was 90 degrees,” he said, shaking his head. “Even if I hadn’t been hunting alone, I never could have saved the meat before it spoiled.”

Emergency cornea surgery put him out of commission for the rest of the rut.

He was still looking for sales on an extra freezer going into October, until several setbacks. One hunt was foiled when a guide ushered in a client to shoot a six-point bull Brown was trading bugles with – essentially using Brown as a decoy.

In November, Brown humped through deep snow for more close encounters, but his hunts were scuttled by unexpected follow-up surgery on his eye.

In December, the pressure was really on.

“I’d used up all my vacation time and was borrowing from the next year and I still didn’t have an elk,” he said by phone last week. “My doctor said I couldn’t do any heavy lifting, but I went out again anyway.”

Brown can tell stories all night about his once-in-a-lifetime elk hunting season: the other chances he passed up on bulls, the cell-phone calls and photos he shared from the hunts with his elderly father, the four cougars that walked 40 yards upwind of him at dusk leading to a scary 1-mile hike out to his rig in the dark.

And don’t let him forget to tell the great story of the final hunt in the Yakima region, when he bagged what he calls “my butt-ugly five-pointer” at 15 yards.

“I’m going to mount those horns because I never want to forget that hunting season,” he said.

“If I were retired or wealthy, it wouldn’t have been so stressful.

“I cherish those hunts, but time was the big issue – and knowing that I couldn’t let myself get skunked or it would have eaten at me for the rest of my life.”

Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or e-mail richl@spokesman.com

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