Dream vs. Reality: Mountain Man

Grand ambitions unceremoniously thwarted.

Bozeman has always been a town of dreamers. The most recent influx of transplants (e.g., me) are perhaps the dreamiest of all, arriving with Instagram expectations and unjustified self-confidence. Snow-covered mountains were the motivating factors for my emigration, but I had a secondary goal, first cultivated by a teenage reading of A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky: become a bonafide mountain man.

In Montana I’ll become self-sufficient. No longer will I wait in line at the grocery store under soul-searing fluorescent light. My food won’t be wrapped in plastic, nor will it be mass-produced on some farm. I’ll shop at nature’s farm—I’ll become a hunter, fisherman, and gatherer. 

From now on, all my protein will be wild. I’ll learn how to hunt: tracking and stalking, upwind and downslope, calibers and shot loads, windage and holdover. And once I’ve brought down my quarry, I’ll dress it without a grimace or wasted cut, stoic and surgical beneath lightly falling snow. I’ll be strong and fit, hiking through rugged country with a rifle in my hand and a load of elk meat on my back. Deer steaks, antelope tenderloins, wild-turkey breasts—this will be my fare, along with fish I catch in the river. And I won’t waste any part of the animals I harvest, either. I’ll turn all of it into… something. Maybe a belt? A hat? A bone flute? I don’t know, something.

Along the way, I’ll learn woodsman skills, like how to fashion stuff. I’ll fashion so much stuff—out of pine cones, antlers, sinew (what is sinew, really?)—you name it, I’ll fashion something from it. I’ll mostly craft things from wood. I’ll make a coffee table first. Think of the tools I’ll need! Hatchets, crosscut saws, chisels. Whittling, too—there’ll be lots of whittling. Around a fire. With my Bowie knife. In my deer-skin hat. Alone, but happy in my self-sufficiency.

Mountain Man, Bozeman, Montana

Wow, guns are expensive. And kinda scary. After perusing the selection at Schnee’s, I drive down the street and join the Co-op. They sell game meat—goose is technically game, right? It might not be wild goose, and I don’t see any elk steak, but whatever, it’s a start. A person has to work up to these things. Is that local chicken? Are those sweet potatoes? And squash? I’ve always wanted to make butternut-squash soup. It always looks so delicious on Pinterest. 

Maybe while I’m saving up for a rifle, I’ll knit some sweaters—you know, for hunting—from locally harvested, organic, gluten-free alpaca fur. But that sounds time-consuming, and I want to go biking this weekend. Maybe I’ll catch some fresh fish on the way home—wait, is that “wild-caught” trout in the Co-op freezer? Do I need to personally catch the fish for it to count? I’ll bet Jeremiah Johnson would trade a beaver pelt for some wild-caught trout if he wanted to go biking. It’s better than buying tuna at Safeway, right?

Look at this, I’m already living closer to the land! Buying local food is pretty much the same as hunting and fishing and gathering. Until I work up to doing it myself, I mean. And local drink too—looks like Bozone Amber’s on sale. But damn, this backpack is already digging into my shoulders, and my condo’s at least six blocks away. I’ll drive over to the taproom later and fill up a growler.

Next week I’ll buy some tools and start on that coffee table. I guess should find some wood, too. But shucks, I’ve got friends coming to town next week—there’ll be no time for mountain-manning. I think I saw an ad for a nice coffee table at Target; that’ll work until I become an expert craftsman next month. And that deer-skin hat on Amazon will help me get into the mountain-man mindset. I can’t wait.