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Bernie Kuntz: Getting off the dime

His name was Harold, and he came into my office about 25 years ago and introduced himself as a retired high school superintendent, mid-70s in age, and trying to make up for all the hunting he had missed in his lifetime by having to work in the autumn.

Harold must have been 6-foot-3, a lean, handsome man with gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He told me he had high blood pressure but otherwise was in good health.

When I met him he had just returned from the Yukon with a modest Fannin sheep. He had taken a Dall sheep in Alaska and a Rocky Mountain bighorn in Montana from a limited permit area northwest of Yellowstone National Park. The latter was an achievement in itself due to the difficulty of the draw, and then the unlikelihood of finding a legal ram in that rather marginal hunting unit.

I liked Harold from the moment I met him. I appreciated his measured, intelligent conversation, his lack of bravado and the fact that he didn't tie me up for hours on end. He realized I had a job to do and kept his visits to 10 or 15 minutes.

A few years after I met him he was going on a trip to Alaska for moose and caribou, and hunting with Mike Colpo's outfit in the Alaska Range. I knew Colpo from fundraisers, and one time in 1991 he picked up Labrador Bruno and me on the highway through Gallatin Canyon and gave us a ride into town. (On a backpack trip, Bruno and I had crossed from the Yellowstone drainage over the Gallatin Divide and down to the Gallatin River.)

So I was astonished to learn that that while Harold was packing his gear in his tent at the end of the hunt in Colpo's base camp, he collapsed and died of a heart attack. I was sad to learn of Harold's passing. I must admit that we hunters all wish for such an end.

Harold knew how to "get off the dime."

Elmer was not such a man. He wandered into my office one day, and I had the devil's own time getting rid of him. He was 80 years old, told me he moved from Steele, N.D. to Bozeman as a young man, worked in the maintenance department at the university for almost 40 years before retiring.

Elmer somehow acquired a beautiful pre-'64 Model 70 Winchester Alaskan in .338 Win. Mag. and was determined to shoot an Alaskan brown bear with it. He had a relative — a nephew if I remember correctly — who lived in Haines in Southeast Alaska.

"Well, you better get at it," I said to him. "Scrambling over rocks and downfall on the beach on a spring bear hunt is not easy. Nor is wading up creeks in hip boots in the fall."

Elmer's visits continued. The front office ladies saved me a number of times, calling my office phone and "reminding" me of a meeting. Sometimes they'd see Elmer pull into the parking lot and they'd meet him at the door, telling him I was out of the office.

This went on for several years. One morning I saw his name in the obituary section of the local paper. Elmer never did manage to get to Alaska for a brown bear hunt.

I have known a good many other fellows who had trouble pursuing their hunting dreams. A friend from Mandan has talked about going elk hunting since I met him in 1968. He is 71 years old and has had three strokes in the last four years. Do you think he'll ever go elk hunting? I don't either.

Some people are able to "get off the time." Others cannot. It's that simple.