The Idaho Sporting Life

Making leisure an art form

The air is crisp and cool and the sunshine hot. All is silent and still, except for the indistinct, whirring buzz of distant insects doing their summer things.

“Pull!”

A moment more of silence.

Crack! Then a sprinkling sound like rain through the trees.

“Well don’t act so surprised!” says Willie Cole, his startling blue eyes twinkling in rhythm with the sun and the whispering aspen leaves, dancing in the breeze overhead.

But Teton Valley is full of surprises.

Hidden behind the façade of a typical small mountain town is a fascinating community composed of every sort of character and class of person you’d ever want to meet (and maybe some you don’t). Farmers, ranchers, cowboys, ski bums, hippies, hipsters, and plenty of millionaires are all drawn here by a common landscape they use in different ways.

A recent foray into the sporting life – where leisure is an art form and something to be worked at with diligent attention to detail – has me convinced once and for all and without a doubt that Teton Valley truly does have it all.

Mastering the art of leisure

The opportunity to experience the classic sporting life – picture Downton Abbey with shotguns, dogs, and tweeds, only in Teton Valley’s own backyard – was afforded me by Blixt & Co, a valley-based company offering “premier traditional driven pheasant and partridge shooting.”

It’s not the season, so I didn’t shoot any pheasants or partridges during Blixt’s recent Sporting Days, held just north of Tetonia. But I did learn even leisure is not exempt from the adage about anything worth doing being worth working hard for.

Every aspect of the sporting life – the clothes, etiquette, language, and shooting technique – is deliberate. Willie Cole, the world-famous British instructor whose unwavering enthusiasm made every next shot seem unmissable, told me sometimes even after I’d hit a clay that it was a good shot, though my style was off.

“You OK?” Willie would repeat before every shot, pairing his jolly cadence with a sing-songy, “The gun is empty” as he cracked the over-under open to demonstrate something. Willie is tan, trim, mustachioed, and possessive of the most massive hands. And he really does have the bluest eyes, as if he’d stared so often up into cloudless skies in search of sailing birds that his irises absorbed some of the reflection.

Willie’s thrilled to see everyone improve, and his zeal is contagious. Hitting a clay pigeon has got to be one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Despite Willie’s insistence not to look so surprised after his expert instruction led us to knock a flying target out of the sky, somehow managing to arrange all the moving parts from the bottom up – the feet, legs, hands, and head – properly and in time, I always impressed myself.

Luxury and practicality

Willie says every clay tells a different story, and it’s true. A shot I couldn’t hit for the life of me in the morning I obliterated in the afternoon, and vice versa. The sport is addicting.

Jen Magnusson, Blixt’s co-founder, forewarned me that the sporting life is dangerous, “because it’s one of those things that you have to have more.” There’s a reason Britain’s most elite have been favoring the sporting life for generations.

Years of refinement have formed the tradition into the essence of civilization, infusing luxury craftsmanship with functionality, magnificently tailored clothes juxtaposed to, but not disrupting, the unkempt natural beauty of the wilderness. If the pheasants took the time to don their festive best, we should, too, in pursuit of them. And it wouldn’t do to offend our pristine, natural surroundings, so perfectly put-together, with an obnoxious graphic tee and gauche pair of factory-made sneakers.

The sporting life attracts people, yes, with money, but also those who prioritize an elegant, classic aesthetic, and who appreciate how it can work in harmony with such a basic, barbaric, Hemingway-approved pursuit as man hunting beast for food.

There’s something to be said for people who put so much effort into their leisure activities. And as I relaxed in the aspen grove during our last evening, inspecting my disproportionately sunburnt left arm and nursing by bruised right cheek with a gin and tonic amongst the wildflowers, I reflected on how the sporting life has it all.

And so does Teton Valley.

This article was originally published by The Teton Valley News. 

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