Scat Tracks

Scat Tracks

Matthews, Jason
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If you spend much time in the backcountry, you know that Mother Nature has a twisted sense of humor. You also realize that things don't always go as planned—can’t get a shot on the trophy bull, the trout aren't hungry, or you find out the hard way that the sick ski or paddle line you painstakingly scouted just isn't doable. It often seems that the more detailed your plans, and the higher your expectations, the more likely things will go drastically wrong. Someone a long time ago, probably a hunting or river guide, came up with the perfect motto for those times when none of your plans pan out: Shit Happens.

Few people make this slogan their personal mantra the way professional guides do. It doesn't matter if you’re an elk outfitter way back in the hills or a river guide yelling "paddle!" without fail, something is going to go so afoul that those two words will be the only way to explain to your dumbfounded clients what the hell just happened.

Just when I thought I'd seen and heard it all, last hunting season my worn-out catch phrase was used in yet another situation. I was working for an outfitter in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. He’s an old friend of mine known for having the "Finest Backcountry Camp in Montana,” and his business therefore attracts hunters who like the thought of soft pillows, carpeted tents, hot showers, gourmet meals, and big bull elk.

Don (names have been changed to protect the embarrassed) was just such a client. He was the classic New York City wanna-be mobster. Weighing in at just under 300 pounds, he was a nonstop-talking, wise-cracking, hell-on-wheels (and horses) kinda guy. He'd planned the hunt for himself and his three buddies, and he had great expectations that he would go home with a wall-hanger. The only problem was Don didn't like to leave the comfort of camp for more than an hour or so, and he wasn't exactly an early riser. If an elk ever wandered into camp at midday, no doubt Don would "whack it"; however, the odds were slim of him ever achieving much success as a hunter.

On day three of the week-long hunt, Don got up in time for biscuits, gravy, bacon, eggs, and coffee. He hit breakfast hard, then rushed to get geared up in time to ride off on the horses before the sun peeked over the mountains. He and Bill, my outfitter friend, rode for about an hour before they got to a meadow with a nice vantage point to hopefully spot an elk out in the open. After sitting and glassing the surrounding area for another hour or so, Bill grew restless and asked Don if he'd like to hike to the top of a nearby ridge for a better view. Don didn't think that was such a great idea, so he skipped the hike and stayed seated on a log, leaning against a tree. Ninety minutes later Bill returned and Don was pacing around with a wild look in his eyes. "We gotta go," he blurted out. Bill knew something was wrong. He surveyed the scene and saw that Don, like a dog on a chain, had walked circles in the snow and caused a deep rut. He looked at Don’s sheepish, desperate expression and asked, "Did you soil yourself?"

"Shit happens" was not the reply given, though Don shamefully admitted that he’d had an accident and was ready to return to camp. His loyal, trustworthy, paid hunting companion did what anyone else would do in a similar situation when standing in front of a grown man at the verge of tears: he busted out laughing. Two hours later (they took the long way back), the chuckling guide and disgraced hunter arrived at camp. Don skipped lunch and retired to his tent. Later, a strange, horrendous-smelling black cloud was seen rising from his smoke stack, and the charred remains of a pair of long underwear were found in his wood stove. Not much was said of it (to Don anyway). Because after all, it was just another one of those humbling experiences that happens in life.

So this fall, as you head out into the woods for hunting or other recreation, remember that things may not work in your favor. No big deal; shit happens. Hopefully, you just won't have to wallow in it all the way back to camp.





Jason Matthews owns River Source Outfitters in Livingston and has worked variously as a rafting guide, hunting guide, and fishing guide.
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