Late summer through early fall is a humbling period for hunters as we endure the bittersweet ritual of asking for permission to hunt on private land.
The effort is riddled with more ups and downs than a Palouse wheat field.
For those of us who live in town, it’s a window into how things are going on the farms and ranches.
Nothing is certain from year to year.
When I head back to my native Montana this month, I won’t be able to hunt on the ranch of longtime family friends for the first time in more than 40 years.
They sit on land worth a couple of million dollars, but an illness in the family since last fall has left them $100,000 in debt.
Great wildlife habitat is one of the ranch’s assets, and they’re leasing the hunting to an outfitter. Their options for being charitable are limited this year. They need to generate as much income as possible from every acre.
Even their kids can’t hunt there.
Years ago, a Whitman County farmer devoted a morning to driving me around the vast area he farmed and to show me where I could hunt pheasants. All I did was ask permission to hunt and promise to be a conservative walk-in sportsman who would respect his property and the privilege to enjoy it.
He thought I was an OK guy and essentially gave me the keys to his place.
This sort of old-school trust and hospitality brings me to my knees. I’ve never taken it for granted.
But how do you adequately thank a man for that sort of generosity?
I’ve sent him money for a night out with his wife every year as a gesture of thanks, but every year he donates it to the hunter education program in the small town near his farm.
Last year the farmer became seriously ill.
This year he’s worse, and the place is in the hands of four different farmers. He gave me their phone numbers. They are generous people, too.
One farm wife thanked me for calling to ask if I might continue the privilege to hunt with the new management.
“Most people don’t bother,” she said.
I sent the ill farmer another check this year to make sure he knew I was thankful.
I urged him to spend it on himself and his family this time.
He sent me a thank you letter and said, once again, that he was giving it to the hunter education program.
“I hope you understand,” he said.
A Lincoln County ranch I’ve had the privilege to hunt for 30 years changed hands this summer. The new lessees basically communicated with me as though I were a child molester when I tried to introduce myself.
They owed me nothing, and I understand that. I hold nothing against them.
Yet it was surreal, as though the world had been turned upside down: strange people giving me the cold shoulder in a house where I had been welcome so warmly before, on land I know so intimately.
I had a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat when I drove slowly out to the main road, past the barn where I had helped move equipment, and through the quail pockets where I had run four generations of Brittany spaniels and English setters.
If I feel this bad, I thought, what did my friend, the former ranch operator, feel like as he drove out with his wife and kids after losing the lease to a place he’d called home?
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.