Today marks the end of my antler-less elk tag and 2020 hunting season. It was about a year ago that my friend Tom Bishop gave me an elk steak. All natural, non GMO, organic, free range elk. I fired up the Traeger, set it to smoke, pulled out the cast iron and then reversed seared that steak, medium rare, salt, pepper and butter to pure bliss. At that point I was sold. Since then I’ve been gearing up to learn to hunt, “live off the land” as they say, and bag my own elk. This is the first year I’ve ever hunted. Tom took me under his wing, showed me the ropes. Countless 5am mornings began in October.
I was hunting elk, at least I thought it was hunting, more often than not I felt like I was hiking around with a big backpack and a rifle. But more than all that I was collecting experiences and moments of connecting with nature in a way I never would have expected. Over the past few months I have seen a “smiling” badger carcass, a bald eagle soaring right over my head, obsidian (the glassy rock the Native American Indians used to make arrowheads from), creepy glowing forrest eyes, countess sunrises, countless deer, mama and baby moose, and a single giant herd of elk (30+). I saw vibrant fall colors turn to monotone bare brown and white snow. I saw many moonlit mornings.
The land seems to have a life all its own I was chasing that elk and that’s what kept me waking up day after day. But when I’d end my hunt without an elk, I still had so much to take home with me, not the least of which were the animal reenactment stories and little souvenirs I had for my little girls when I got home; btw I def don’t recommend leaving kids unattended with cattails.
Truth be told, I’ve never found waking up so early so often so easy.
Out of the 20+ days I was out there, I never came back home disappointed, except maybe once. That was that one day I had a shot at 90+ yards, and missed, I reloaded with no concern about how loud I was being, the elk heard me and I didn’t get a chance for a second shot. Buck fever? Maybe. I was kicking myself in the ass for a few days following trying to figure out what I could have done better.
Hunting is like talent search, after all it used to be called “head hunting”. Over the past few months I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) when to move and chase and when to sit and wait. I’ve learned look near and far, up and down, to hone my senses and to tune my perceptions and look for patterns. I’ve learned that you need to be technically prepared to create opportunities for connection. I’ve learned that climbing a snowy hill with a 40 pound backpack 2 degree at 6am isn’s as bad as it may sound. I’ve learned the long-game is where it’s at. I’ve learned to connect with the land in a way I did not expect.
Hunting season is now over and by all measures I’d say my season was a success. I’ll be grieving loss of my early morning muse, but I’m looking forward to next season.