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Dawdling gets us nowhere

The one and only time I talked to Kay Bowles, Wyoming game warden, was in summer of 1976 after a hike I made into the Washakie Wilderness. I had a creel full of Rocky Mountain whitefish and a few cutthroat trout, but since I was hundreds of miles from my home in Cheyenne, I stopped in at Bowles’ place in Dubois to see if I could use his freezer.

Bowles, who also was a crackstock maker, kindly agreed. The next day I picked up the frozen fish. As I said, that was the only time I saw Kay because he died of a heart attack shortly thereafter, in spite of the fact that he was only 40 years old, didn’t smoke or drink, and wardens told me later that his body fat index was the lowest of all the Wyoming game wardens.

If there is a lesson here, it is not to plan one’s life in retirement as you might never get there. I took that lesson to heart a very long time ago, and always lived my life to the fullest — poking around in the out-of-doors whenever I was able.

Which brings me to another point: This is the time of year when big game applications are due in western states, and I know there are plenty of younger people promising themselves that they will apply “next year.”

Young people need to recognize the fact that it often takes a number of years to draw a permit in most states. With the daunting odds for some species, like bighorn sheep, one may never draw a permit. I always encourage people to go hunting, fishing, backpacking and exploring while they are able to physically do it. I know the excuse, “I can’t afford it right now.” Allow me to point out that I don’t believe I ever embarked on a big game hunting trip that I could afford. I saved part of the cost of the trip, borrowed the rest and went.

My friend Randy likes to say, “You’re gonna run out of health before you run out of money.” (I am a walking testament to that!)

Another hunter of my acquaintance is Jack Atcheson, Sr. — a nice fellow now in his 80s and one who has hunted all over the world. I have both of his books autographed the message is the same: Hunt, fish and travel NOW. I wish I could do it all again. Life is short.”

Indeed it is. One season you are chasing pheasant roosters and climbing mountains. The next season your hip bothers you and one knee gets sore. The following year you get operated on but are never the same after that.

Or you wake up one morning and one of your legs doesn’t work right. Or you have cancer. By then it is too late to go on all the dream hunting and fishing trips you have been planning for and saving for over the last several decades.

I knew a couple fine writers — John Jobson of Sports Afield — and Norman Strung, who was a free-lance writer who lived out at Gallatin Gateway, less than 20 miles from my house. Jobson died of a heart attack when he was 48; Strung had terminal cancer. I don’t know his age at the time of his death but he wasn’t much older than Jobson.

I also knew a guy from Oregon who served with me in Vietnam with 1st Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division. I have a picture of him in one of my scrapbooks, holding his M-16 rifle for the camera. There is a pock mark in the chamber area of the barrel where an enemy AK-47 bullet struck his rifle while he was carrying the rifle on patrol. He survived Vietnam but drowned soon thereafter in Alaska while working as a commercial fisherman.

Another Marine, this one my dear friend Woodrow Phillips, got shot through the body while on patrol with me 44 years ago. He survived his wound, went back to Texas and worked for more than three decades for an oil pipeline company. We talked on the phone once a month for 35 years, and Woody always said that one day he was going to fly up to Montana to go trout fishing with me. He went into the hospital for a simple gall bladder surgery, got a staph infection and died at age 55.

He had phoned me a week earlier but I was out and missed his call. I planned to call him back the next Friday, the day he died. I think about that a lot, and every time I see a trout fisherman I remember Woodrow and the trip that might have been.

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been                             an Outdoors columnist for the Sun Since 1974