“How to Talk to a Hunter” is told in the second person through what appear to be notes or journal entries. In Alaska’s bleak midwinter, as Christmas approaches and the days grow colder and shorter, an independent young woman has a relationship with a hunter. When the story begins, the hunter has given the narrator a key to his cabin. The two are not so close, though, that she has given up her own cabin—nor has the hunter given up his other girlfriends.
The narrator spends so much time at the hunter’s house that he cannot play back the messages piling up on his answering machine. Clearly, though, a woman has been calling, perhaps more than one woman. While making love to the hunter, the narrator hears a female voice leaving yet another message.
Perhaps this voice belongs to Patty Coyote, who calls one day while the hunter is out. A few days before Christmas, the hunter tells the narrator that he has a friend in town and so cannot see her. Though the hunter does not mention the friend’s gender, the narrator knows that Patty has come from Montana to be with him. The narrator spends the night with an understanding male friend. When she returns home the next morning, she finds a tin of chocolates and a loving note on her pillow.
The hunter finds the narrator sufficiently attractive to visit her under the pretext of going to work, even though Patty is still in town. The narrator makes clear that she knows that the hunter is cheating on her. He replies with excuses: The visit was all the friend’s idea (still no mention of the friend’s gender), some good will come from this experience, and after holding the narrator, he cannot be comfortable holding anyone else. At night, though, he goes back to his cabin and to Patty. Once Patty leaves, the hunter returns to the narrator. Together they will finish decorating the Christmas tree and then make love beneath it as the stereo plays Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper.”