Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at email@example.com
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Forget Division of Wildlife regulations. Hunting season really begins when herds of bewildered men begin foraging for food at local grocery stores. Watch them, clustered together at the end of every aisle, dazed and confused, eyes darting frantically in every direction - searching, hoping, praying - this will be the place where they bag their trophy: Red Bull! Eggs! Bacon!
Parking lots at City Market and Safeway resemble a four-color spread from the Cabela's fall catalog. Or a monster truck rally. Enormous diesel trucks, tote trailers loaded with four-wheelers, freezers, backpacks, tool kits, generators, winch chains, tow ropes, decoys, scopes, boots, maps, ammo kits and, of course, duct tape. Mysterious items bulge beneath tarps crisscrossed with bungee cords and ropes. These guys are good. These guys are smart. These guys know how to tie a knot.
Inside the store, they employ the tried-and-true hunting strategy known as, "stalk till you spot." To aid in the search, they wear bright orange hats and camo to blend in with the cereal, bananas and ground beef. If you take your time and pay close attention, you'll find them wandering the aisles like mice in a maze. If they can't find something on the list, they will not, of course, ask a grocery clerk for directions. Instead they prefer to yell to each other:
"Hey Chuck, where is the Red Bull?"
"Dunno. Get Bill on the walkie-talkie."
"Hey, Bill is there Red Bull in your aisle?"
"Nah. I'm getting doughnuts. Ask George."
"George! George couldn't find Red Bull if it was in his back pocket. Remember how he got us lost last year?"
"Oh yeah. Four hours wandering in the woods, and then he shot at a tree branch that looked like the rack on a five-point elk."
Buying meat before you kill meat seems redundant.
But hunters know how to do things I'll never be able to do. For example, they can set up a tent, a process that left me so pudding-headed I bought a pop-up camper. In the harshest of weather, they can follow the trail of an elk herd simply by looking at broken branches, scat and tracks. If they're lucky enough to bag their game, they know how to field dress an animal and get it back down the trail. So why can't they find a can of Dinty Moore stew?
It's true, grocery stores are deliberately confusing. They must subscribe to the theory that the longer you stay inside, the more you'll buy. The milk is miles away from the cereal. The florescent lights are annoyingly bright. There are too many choices: generic, brand name and organics all scream for attention. Is it better to overdraw your checking account, yet live longer with organics, or cheap out, die young and buy generic?
To eliminate the confusion and help these poor hunters, I have a few suggestions for grocery stores in Northwest Colorado.
Produce a topographical map of the store with coordinates to items hunters frequently purchase, such as toilet paper, energy bars, Gatorade and Red Bull.
Serve complimentary bugle lattes in bright orange cups.
Offer guided tours or personal shoppers.
Of course, hunters aren't the only ones who have a hard time in the grocery store. Just last Sunday I asked the check-out clerk if they were all wearing orange vests to set the mood for hunting season and Halloween. She calmly informed me the Broncos, whose colors are orange and blue, were playing.