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The Great Tree Hunt

In search of the perfect tree

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The Great Tree Hunt

Hunting would be absurdly easier if your prey didn't move and could grow to, say, 100 feet tall. But when you're hunting a Christmas tree, rules and written-in-stone facts go right out the window.

Nope, the wild evergreen is one of the wiliest plants ever to have a spot on a holiday to-do list.

The quest begins by finding a permit, which isn't that difficult since they are available at all Boise and Payette National Forest offices and ranger stations for $10 each through Thursday, Dec. 24, as well as more than a dozen businesses (for a full list, check out the "forest products permits" link under "passes and permits" on the Boise National Forest Web site at fs.usda.gov/boise).

Once you're armed with your permit, reaching your prey becomes the real challenge, especially as snow continues to pile up. Prepare for your hunt by bringing along emergency equipment, fueling up the 4-wheel-drive vehicle, paying attention to closed roads and changing weather, and remembering a saw.

By this late in the season, most of the remaining trees have become skittish around humans, fleeing from the most easily accessible hunting areas, so be prepared to hike/snowshoe/ski/snowmobile further into their natural habitat.

While some tree hunters go so far as to don camouflage and walk very slowly, with their arms out at a 45-degree angle, a branch in each hand, this can prove dangerous when another desperate tree hunter mistakes them for the rare transitory pine, a species prized by collectors.

Of course, the chances of coming home with something resembling those perfectly triangular, bushy green farm-raised trees found in makeshift corrals across the valley are distant. Trees found in the wild tend to be a little rangier than their domesticated cousins.

Hunters are occasionally known to lose perspective while in the wilderness, often thinking they've found a perfect specimen to mount in their living rooms, only to discover the tree is twice the height of their house. Remember, big trees are catch-and-release. Only trees 12 feet tall or shorter may be kept.

And while everyone wants to bag the quintessential tree, after a few hours of searching in the cold, most of those desires are completely forgotten. That's when the search for the perfect tree turns into the desperate quest to find any tree that has at least one side with more branches visible than trunk.

This desperation can lead to some bad decisions, as witnessed by the sickly looking trees seen tied to the tops of cars heading back into the valley each weekend.

Hunters should be advised to choose wisely before aiming their saw or axe: Permits are nonrefundable.