Talking to strangers in Idaho

OK, everyone keeps asking me why I was in Idaho and Montana for the last 8 days. A section of the novel I’m writing takes place on a wildlife preserve in Northern Idaho. In the story, there’s a conflict between the local hunters and the conservationists, and since I’ve never been to Idaho and I’ve never spoken to someone who hunts, I thought it was about time to check both of those off my list.

I flew into Spokane, Washington, rented an amazing Subaru, and then drove 700 miles, stopping at every dinky diner, every remote visitor center, and every tiny museum. I even interviewed people as they scraped snow off their cars. What I lacked in a plan I made up for in chutzpah.

On the fist day of driving, I followed signs for The Museum of North Idaho. It was snowing hard (with already a foot of snow on the ground), and when I arrived at the museum it looked closed. Hilariously, there was a sign to pay at the “parking machine” which was a stack of envelopes for people to send a dollar to the city. The door of the museum was locked but a kind gentleman said I could come in just to get out of the cold. I started telling him about my book, and it turned out that he was the leading historian on Northern Idaho. He spoke with me for over 2 hours about Idaho and why the people don’t like government control, how hunting is a part of the culture, and what originally brought people to that region. It was fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Idaho, but his knowledge was so much more intense and nuanced. 

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Gil and his animals

A few days later I talked with Gil Mangels, owner of The Miracle of America Museum and Pioneer Village. He killed all the animals in the picture above and had a story about each one. Before coming on this trip I thought hunting was the dumb man’s sport. I had a picture in my mind of guys getting drunk on bud light and shooting whatever moved. Gil, and every hunter I spoke to, loves animals, loves being out in nature, and loves the fine craftsmanship and history of guns. He can tell you about every species of plant, the difference between a white tail deer and a mule deer, and the year and make of practically any rifle. His aim is a point of pride because he knows he will hurt the animal more if he’s not well-practiced. he eats all the animals he kills and even says a prayer for them after he brings them down. Gil and the other hunters I spoke to gave me such great insight for my story. 

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I never thought I’d get to hold a gun.

I realized half way through the trip that my main character was going to have to shoot a gun at some point in the story so I should know what it’s like. I found a gun and rifle club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and introduced myself. I spoke with the NRA representative who couldn’t have been nicer. I was a little scared of talking to him because I don’t think people should own guns, but he believes as long as people want to own guns it’s his responsibility to teach them how to use them safely. He taught me how to shoot a 9mm hand gun and holy camoly that thing is scary. I could feel my arm shaking for a few minutes afterward. I cannot ever imagine pointing that thing at a person and I don’t know how anyone could carry it on their body, but to each their own. I’m glad I got to try it out, and meet so many people I normally would never come across.



  1. Tracy, this is awesome! I can’t wait to hear more about your trip. I shot a gun once too, not even sure of the make/model, and it was a very scary but kind of cool at the same time experience. I’m also excited to see how this will influence your writing!


    1. I got so many ideas for my story! Now it’s just a matter of switching modes to produce story instead of collect info. I can’t picture you shooting a gun, but then again I never thought I would 😛


    1. Cool! I didn’t get down to Boise, but I did visit two towns which I could move to in a heart beat: Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint. Sandpoint seems like it’s a writer’s haven in the works with tons of book shops, a cute coffee shop called the readery, and a beautiful beach. I would definitely check it out before making a final decision 🙂


      1. Tracy – Make sure to compare/contrast: property tax, income tax, and crime rate. Those are some of the very reasons we checked Boise (plus it’s milder weather-wise) 🙂


  2. I don’t know if I’ve said it lately, but Tracy, you’re awesome. I love the things you do. Whether it’s giving feedback to strangers for a few bucks, or reading out loud in front of a small crowd, or flying a long, long way from home in the middle of winter to research a book … very cool, and very inspiring. I always enjoy hearing about your adventures as well.

    I’ve only shot guns a few times, but I found it both scary and exhilarating, especially when I got up the nerve to fire a .44 magnum. Yikes. I also got to fire an AK47, which was pretty cool, too. Don’t own any weapons, though … not sure if I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to do that.


    1. Thanks Dave! I think having a blog has definitely helped me push my boundaries because it helps to think of every adventure as a journalistic assignment 🙂
      I got to see the slug of a .44 compared to the 9mm I shot and I can’t even imagine what the kick back would have been like. I found out that I have a friend who has a rifle so she’s going to teach me how to shoot that too!


  3. You are conquering new and exciting frontiers! Personally, I’m against guns and I know that in order to keep them out of the wrong hands, it would cost those responsible folks who have earned the right to have them and who often cite legitimate reasons for having them. Understanding this, I’m still on the ‘no guns’ side of things because I believe it is about the greater good, not our often microscopic viewpoint. As a writer, your story will benefit greatly from these experiences and add real substance and objectivity. Good for you!


    1. I agree with you entirely. It was definitely important to hear the other side though so that my story doesn’t feel flat. Thanks for the thoughtful comment 🙂


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