As a kid, a bike provides ultimate freedom. It gives the ability to roam all over town, hitting up candy shops, dirt jumps, and fishing holes without the oversight of parents. It provides the means to get around and excites the nerves when goaded to hit sweet jumps by an older brother. Though no longer a kid, I’m still tempted by the places a bicycle can take me, though I’ve traded candy shops for breweries, and am mostly concerned with how they can help access hard to reach destinations like summer steelhead runs, blue grouse hideouts and open ground containing antelope or caribou. I used to fill my pockets with Airheads and Big League Chew. Now I’m after backstraps and shanks.
Similar to the ability to recall every steelhead I’ve brought to hand, I can remember each of the bicycles since the grey and white 16 incher I first threw a leg over as a child. There was the chrome BMX with checkered foam top tube padding and a plastic seat. Later, gears showed up in a six-speed I rode to elementary school, and eventually a red Raleigh mountain bike I could barely straddle. After mowing enough lawns to save up some cash, my first big purchase was a Haro BMX that took me all over town. At sixteen years old, my first job was in the Scheels service shop where I learned (largely through trial and error) how to work on bikes, and quickly spent all my wages on outdoor gear. All those bikes were unique in their own way, but one thing united them all: the feeling of freedom and self-reliance that a bicycle gives its rider.
Hunting also left its mark on my childhood. The pastures, food plots and sloughs of central South Dakota were a big part of every fall and winter as I cut my teeth chasing pheasants with my Grandpa, Dad and brother. But, in the western part of the state, we targeted mule and whitetail deer. I still laugh, thinking of myself as a twelve-year-old kid, being trusted with a firearm, and heading out alone to the designated meet-up point. The vague descriptions dad gave about where to hike and wait for him taught me to pay attention to the lay of the land. A bounding whitetail showed me that my favorite pair of wind pants were probably not the best choice in outerwear. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing.
In reality, Dad was probably never more than a mile away, but the responsibility and trust he put on me made it feel like a big deal. I wasn’t able to put the feeling to words as a kid, and I’m sure I can’t do it justice now, but walking through the woods with the purpose to harvest an animal is primal. The weight, seriousness, and challenge provide a connection to our ancestral past. You’re shaping your own destiny and making decisions that will affect the world around you. It’s how we’ve survived as a species, and it’s no surprise that many of us feel more alive for a few weeks every hunting season than we do the rest of the year.
Now that I’m older and planning my own trips, I often search for opportunities to combine my two passions, biking, and hunting. Sometimes I just like to head out on the mountain bike with the intent simply to ride. I’ll strap a single shot 12 gauge on the bike, hoping for a fun day in the woods and possibly a blue grouse or two. Other times the hunt takes precedence, and the bicycle provides the transportation. One of my favorite hunting memories is a solo hunt where the bike took me all over the Wyoming high desert and hauled out an entire antelope buck. There’s something about using a bike to access hunting and fishing spots that really appeals to me.
Bikes are relatively fast and quiet. In the right location, one can easily triple walking speed on a bike. Cargo can be carried on racks or trailers that take the weight off the shoulders and backs. Most importantly, it’s downright fun! On unsuccessful hunts, I’ve been rewarded with grin-inducing cruises down trails on the way to the truck. On occasion, I’ve harvested animals and carried an entire quartered antelope in bags attached to the rack. Regardless of the outcome, the experience of bike hunting or fishing makes me supremely happy. I’m not saying bikes are the solution to every hunt, or that they belong on every trip or location. They’re simply another tool that enables the savvy hunter to travel farther, quicker and maybe even enjoy some swoopy singletrack on the way back to the trailhead. Both purveying wild game and traveling by bike impart a sense of freedom, self-reliance, and adventure. It’s something I think about all year, and you can but I’ll be pedaling after caribou across the Alaskan tundra this fall.
Photo Ambassador Brian Ohlen lives in Alaska and runs the Spoke 'n' Fly, an adventure blog centered around biking, hunting, and fishing.