The Gatekeepers

By Matt Dwonch

“The west is dead.” 

“This place isn’t what it used to be.” 


Hostile one-liners flew through the mountain air. Sitting on my rusted tailgate, I took in the scene before me. Twenty bearded dudes, all mad and the bad kind of drunk, some rocked on their heels, a few occasionally toe-kicked the dirt. The air was filled with dust and restlessness. The ground was littered with beer cans. Sorry, not beer cans—Miller Lite cans. I may be young, but I know the difference. 

Ten steps away stood the object of the crowd’s ire—a green metal gate, complete with a new, closed padlock. A note was attached.

It read: 

Due to the continued destruction of this private property, motor vehicle access is now restricted. You may pass through the property on foot to access the national forest.

A harmless note, except it meant an extra two-mile walk into prime elk real estate. For the gatekeepers, taking two steps to a beer cooler was a lot more appealing than two miles into the wilderness area.

I decided the trek was well worth my time. This decision was born from both a deep-rooted desire to avoid the Miller Lite crew and a strong urge to set eyes on the birthplace of my hunting roots.

Welcoming the extra miles, I enjoyed a week of lonely, peaceful elk hunting. I was unsuccessful, but I returned two weeks later. 

When I arrived at the gate, I encountered some new characters. The beer boys were gone, replaced by two very sober, stern cowboys. 

This pair was both helpful and kind. They explained they worked for the new owners of the gated property. I recounted my deep love for the area and soon found myself driving through an open gate with a padlock code in the back of my mind. The gate shut behind me.

Exactly four days later, I approached from the opposite side, a dead bull elk in tow. As I got closer, I noticed a man crouched beside the gate. Gradually, the sound of a chainsaw—no, a helicopter, drifted across the valley.  Sure enough, I was soon buzzed by a recreational chopper. Ahead of me at the gate, the crouched man stood up, stared at the helicopter, and uttered something to the effect of “holy shit.”  

Leaving his chainsaw wedged halfway through the gatepost, he made a desperate sprint for the open door of his still-running truck. As he stomped on the gas, my cowboy friends burst from the trees in a 4×4 and joined the helicopter in hot pursuit. 

I’m not sure how the situation ended, but I’d wager the gate vandal hasn’t returned. Being chased by angry cowboys and helicopters is not on my hunting bucket list. I learned a couple of things on this hunt. First, don’t touch other people’s shit, even if it inconveniences you. Second, the West is not dead. 

The West is alive and kicking in rural Idaho, but don’t take that as an invitation to visit. 

From the FE Films Archive

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