Last week I spent three days sneaking around the Utah mountains looking for a bull elk. I was visiting my friend Bill, and tagged along behind him while he went in search of an animal to top off his freezer. We put in three twelve hour days and came across several groups of the massive animals, but we saw no antlers and consequently couldn’t fire a shot.
When I was a kid in Iowa my dad really enjoyed pheasant hunting, and my brothers and I used to go out with him walking the ditches and draws on crisp Midwestern mornings – eventually dad spent more and more time in the car, but he still loved being out with his son’s giving us pointers and telling us where to go. For me hunting has been more about laughing and telling exaggerations than it ever was about firing a gun or putting meat in the freezer.
I quickly discovered that elk hunting and pheasant hunting are two ends of the hunting spectrum: one is slow the other fast, one is silent, the other social. Every morning Bill had me in the woods an hour and a half before sunrise moving quietly, listening and looking for any sign of a passing elk. Once we found a favorable spot we hunkered down and waited. This is when I typically assumed my “hunting posture” of lying on my back with my eyes closed, calling in the unwary prey with an elk call that sounds surprisingly like a light snore. Sometimes I’d nod off for thirty, maybe even forty, minutes only to wake and find Bill standing in exactly the same place and in the same position that he was when I dozed off. He had his sneak down that’s for sure.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, climbing, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, but elk hunting was something entirely different. Hunting is all about immersion and absorption: you have to immerse yourself in the forest and absorb every noise and every flicker of light. For me outdoor sports were all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, basically I was just crashing through the woods oblivious of my surroundings. Hunting opened me up to those surroundings. Lying on the warm ground watching the light from the rising sun track down through the forest canopy is something I never before noticed despite having spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in the woods.
I know I might piss off a few friends when I say this, but serious hunters – and when I say serious I’m excluding the beer can shooting guys who have their asses glued to the seat of four-wheelers – and REI shopping enviro folk have a lot in common. I think that there is significant common ground on which both groups can stand. Both groups have a sincere love of the untamed and both want to preserve it.
I think that there is a lot of political hay to be made by separating one group from the other, and it’s sad that both groups are so eager to lap it up. “I ain’t no tree hugger,” is a common refrain among hunters. I’d like to say “heck dude you probably hugged, leaned against, hid behind more trees than I ever did, elk seek refuge in the forest, without trees you’d have no forest.” Likewise environmentalists so often act appalled whenever the issue of hunting comes up. Bill and I were out hunting for food, good tasting healthy food essentially doing the same thing that Homo Sapiens have been doing for two hundred thousand years. It’s in our blood man.
I went hunting for wild elk and hope to do it again really soon.