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It’s fretting season for Alaska hunters. At least some of them.

  • Author: Christine Cunningham
  • Updated: August 14, 2018
  • Published August 14, 2018

Colt helps Steve Meyer eat his camp meal. (Photo provided by Christine Cunningham)

There are five English setters in the yard that are the same age, but only one of them has mastered the order of the day as well as celebrates it.

If I could put a dog's movement to music, there is only one dog in the family that has a song in his heart all day long. It starts with a trumpet-sound of bark around breakfast time or walking time. All the other dogs join in the choir, but Colt outlasts them all for his next chance at a solo.

Long after the others have calmed and their eggs and meat are cooking on the stove, Colt keeps a steady beat of tail-wags. He runs up and down the stairs, across the deck, into the house to jump on a chair and returns just as fast to the far corner of the yard. He does it so many times he has developed a "stairclimbers" physique and stride, while the other dogs stretch out their movements like the strings of a violin.

I'm often comparing the dogs to various things. Their personalities are so unique, I think of new ways to differentiate them by comparing and contrasting.

If they were cars, Hugo would be a Ferrari and Cogswell would be a Mustang. If they were horses, Hugo would be an Arabian and Cogswell would still be a Mustang. As a litter, they were all named after gunmakers, so it follows that I ponder the character attributes of other sets of proper nouns.

Colt paying more attention to dinner preparation than all the exciting things a dog might find in the great outdoors. (Photo provided by Christine Cunningham)

"What are you thinking?" Steve asked just as I was thinking about what kind of musical instrument each of the dogs would be.

"What should I be thinking?" I said. It bought me time to answer a question with a question so I could think of a less embarrassing answer.

"Well, I would think you would be fretting about planning for the Sitka black-tail hunt this October."

It had not once occurred to me to fret about the trip. "What would be an example of something I should fret about?" I asked.

The look on his face told me it could not be true I had not done any fretting at all. In his book, checking and double-checking is part of the ritual of hunting.

On rare occasions, I have hunted by myself, but most of the time we hunt together. As hunting partners, he frets enough for both of us, with plenty of room for me to invite others to join.

"Imagine if you were hunting by yourself," he said, "What would you think about?"

I would think about who else I might get to go with me, I thought, but did not say.

I knew I wasn't ready to hunt a big game animal by myself, yet no matter how many years I had been hunting, I only felt confident in field dressing and transporting waterfowl and upland birds alone. I had never hunted Sitka deer.

"What's going to be foremost on your mind," he said, "is how you are going to take care of the meat and get it back without spoiling."

He waited for my response, but I did not realize he was not speaking hypothetically.

When I did answer, it was another stall tactic, like when a teacher asked me in elementary school what the "D" in Franklin D. Roosevelt stood for, and I said, "his middle name."

The answer to how I was going to take care of the deer meat and get it back without spoiling was, "Put it in a cooler." Steve shook his head and gave me another question so I could at least get two out of three correct.

"What kind of ammunition and gun should you choose for deer hunting on Kodiak?" Then he hinted that I might think about bears.

I had already picked out a rifle — a .300 Weatherby — and we had worked up a nontoxic load and been to the range a few times.

My knowledge of deer and how to take care of them in the field was from books and classes, but I had never shot one. The same went for my knowledge of Kodiak. I had never been there.

I relied on Steve to help me, but I had expected to learn once we were there. I did not realize that proper pre-hunt fretting was an aspect of the hunt in and of itself.

Steve told me he had known people who plan a hunt, put down a deposit for a transporter, buy all the gear and set everything out. They spend months fretting, and then something comes up and they can't go. But they are not too upset because they enjoyed the planning so much.

This was all news to me.

"Help me fret this out right," I said. What might I not have thought through all the way?

He asked if I could drag a deer off a mountain. My answer was a too-quick, yes. He looked doubtful. I had never dragged a deer, but I had witnessed it. You would grab it by the horn, I thought. Unless it didn't have horns.

The average October weight of a Sitka black-tailed buck is 120 pounds. "Let's go out in the yard," I said. "Apparently, I need to find out if I can drag you across the yard."

This was some excellent fretting, I thought.

He allowed the test to be performed with him lying on a blanket on a linoleum floor because, he granted, grass could be slick. I was relieved that I could drag him through the kitchen without difficulty.

"Now try using one hand," he said.

That's enough, I thought. I had fretted enough for one night and could hear Colt sounding the dinner call. He had been planning on it all day long.

Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifelong Alaskan and avid hunter. Contact her at

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