Today was a special day in my hunter’s world. It began like most Rocky Mountain winter days, but by evening I had acquired an elk for the freezer and two new hunting buddies.
Elk meat is a prized commodity in our household and one elk provides satisfying meals for many months. Hunting buddies, on the other hand…well, they are a gift of a lifetime. I am extremely fortunate to have several and I cherish them, but hey, I’m happy to add some others.
My new buddies just happen to be brothers, and like many good hunting companions they innocently possess unbridled enthusiasm, a refreshing ability to gaze upon everything around them as if for the first time, a natural wide-eyed curiosity, and the willingness to do anything required of them to make for a successful outing. Of course, like most people they have their own unique personalities and levels of hunting skill. In this case, they happen to be smaller than most and have some trouble in deep snow or rough country. They are named MacKenzie and Connor, and they are six and eight years old. They already love elk and elk country. In fact, they live in some of the best elk habitat that Colorado has to offer. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…
I have known these two since they were born, and I’ve known their father, Pat, for a quarter century or so. Pat and I have shared a lot of elk camps together, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for a lot of money, unless of course I could use it to go on more hunting trips with him. He is one of the finest hunters I know, and he is lucky to be blessed with a wife who understands his passion, and surely knows that she could not stop him anyway. Certainly it’s no wonder that “the boys” as we call them, take to the outdoors as naturally as elk bugle. Pat tells me that there was a time he could leave the house without them tugging at his coat tails, but he can’t really remember when that was. It’s just the way it should be, I say.
Call it a genetically inherited instinct, or say, a natural affinity for the wilds, these boys love the mountains and it is an uplifting thing to see. Pat has trained them right, of course, having brought them along whenever he could even when it meant carrying them. He’s patiently endured the myriad challenges presented by a partner who can’t tie his shoes or zipper his own jacket. He has always been the unwavering teacher in the face of emergency potty breaks, snarled fishing reels, and miscellaneous meltdowns. It’s just the way it ought to be, says he. I love and respect him more than ever for that.
Always happy to lend support over the years, I’ve done my share and have been quick to offer whatever advice a four-year old can comprehend. Mostly, I’ve never missed a opportunity to ask them an important question. Something like, “Hey Boys! – I just want to know one thing – Are you going to pack my elk? It became our personal joke and was always a great question to ask at parties, causing them to fly off with hysterical giggles and laughter and to repeat it to their young friends who do the same. It’s not often that you get a chance to train a group of small ones in the proper order of hunting priorities. After all, middle age now stares me squarely in the paunch, and frankly, I’m gonna need the help.
Today, we are wholeheartedly engaged in what can only be called a “meat hunt”. We know that there is a small herd of elk not far above the house, and it is late afternoon before everyone is gathered and we prepare to sneak up and over the ridge. The boys have geared up like old pros, which of course in many ways they are. They have watched a multitude of elk from their picture window, probably before they were interested in much else. They know the elk trails and the difference between a yearling and a big cow and where the herd is likely to run if they are spooked. Connor is next to me when we start off, and he does his best Indian imitation while pointing out tracks along the way. He shows me where he last saw the elk, and as we near the top of a small rise we see the oh so typical head up frontal view of a smart old cow. We’re busted, and I’m wheezing up through the oak brush and slippery rocks for position.
The first group of cows is moving and I wait, hoping for a better shot and about to lose my opportunity. Luckily, a mature cow is bringing up the rear. It’s not the easiest shot in the world, nor the toughest, but I’ve not been shooting well for a couple of seasons and I take some extra time to draw a bead. I squeeze the trigger and she drops in her tracks. “Nice shot Mike”, I hear from my six-year-old guide. Sweet words to be sure when your luck has been a little off for a little too long, and out of the mouths of babes at that.
We stand around the downed animal and I am truly grateful. Pat heads off to help another member in our party, and I am left alone with the two boys and a beautiful sunset in a clear, cold December sky. The boy’s seem quite content to hunker down in the snow and watch, and help. I become aware of the fading sky and the mountain peaks over their shoulders and think that they are exactly where they want to be. They wear these mountains like a warm woolen blanket, and there is room underneath for me, and for us all.
I stand before the elk and bow to the four directions and give thanks, party because it is something I have come to do to show respect, and partly for effect, as I know they are watching. What are you doing, they ask? Why did you look in that direction first? It’s obviously time for me to answer some questions.
I decide to quarter the cow for easier handling, and when my knife comes out they really become interested. Something about boy’s and knives, I guess. “Why are you doing it that way, they say?”. Where did the bullet hit? How many teeth does it have? How old is it? Mike, your elk tooth wedding ring is all bloody is it going to be O.K.?” And so on and so on.
I warn them several times to stay clear of my knife in case I slip, but they never miss an opportunity to touch or prod or examine in some way this elk. Their mother has sternly warned them to not ruin their cloths, and both their father and I reminded them more than once. For all the good it does. They want to be close, to smell its’ smell and lay their fingers on its teeth. Even in death, they want to become part of its life. These two are hunters, make no mistake, and I’m proud to be with them on this mountain at this moment in time when two young people chose to join us all in the adventure that we love.
They were quiet for a while, and I was working to beat the darkness. I saw their heads come up and they smiled and looked at each other like they had a thought at the same time. “Hey Mike!, they say proudly. You know what?…we’re gonna pack your elk”.
I stare at them for a moment, and then clandestinely wipe a bit of moisture out of the corner of one eye. It is not an easy maneuver to perform with a heavy backstrap in one hand and a sharp blade in the other.
“That’s right, I say. I’m sure glad you guys are here”.
“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reports a fourth-grader. Never before in history have children been so plugged in-and so out of touch with the natural world. In this groundbreaking new work, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation-he calls it nature deficit-to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (Add), and depression. Some startling facts: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community. The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind. Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards. Last child in the Woods is the first book to bring together cutting-edge research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development-physical, emotional, and spiritual. What’s more, nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and Add. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Even creativity is stimulated by childhood experiences in nature.
Features: Great product! By (author): Richard Louv
Photograph By Chris Smith, Found At the Denver Botanic Gardens.
We Can also Recommend: The Witchery Of Archery
Maurice Thompson’s 1879 book “The Witchery of Archery”, was the main inspiration for the increase of interest in archery in the United States at the beginning of the century.
Dr. R. P. Elmer wrote of it “That wonderful little book has had as much effect on archery as Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the Civil War!”
The Witchery of Archery was the first book in English about hunting with a bow ever published. At the time of its publication the book was well received for its wit and use of common language. (Publisher’s Description)
“Maurice Thompson’s graphic articles will delight the lovers of Archery, which ancient sport finds new life and freshness under the vigorous touches of his pen.”—New York Tribune.
“Something is only given in nature, never taken.” – Richard Nelson, The Island Within
READY OR NOT
The young whitetail buck bounds proudly into the field of newly planted winter wheat and stops, and I know that I must remember to take a breath. Just moments before it had magically appeared from the heavy shadows at field’s edge. I saw first its jet black nose, then it’s eyes, followed by searching ears, and horns.
For some mysterious reason I had been staring intently at this very spot amidst the tangle of heavy vines, the bright green leaves of sassafras trees, and the yellow of remnant persimmon fruit hung on bare branches. It is as if I already knew, somehow, that I would see a deer this morning, and was simply waiting for its arrival. It’s a huge moment when you are thirteen. Why it’s as big as the world.
Just before daylight I had wedged myself into the crotch of an old, dead tree on the more open side of a small, protected field. It was more than cold with a biting, mid November wind, but the tree was big, protecting, with thick, comforting limbs radiating from its base. It was like a fort, and it was great fun just to sit there, hidden, listening.
Morning in the eastern deer woods has a rhythm and cadence all its own. Once heard, it remains indelibly recorded on the heartbeat of your mind I can still hear the stirrings of squirrels and small creatures in the dry leaves and forest duff below, the twittering birds, the scornful proclamations of Blue Jays and wandering crows above. I miss it so.
I remember feeling that the buck knew I was there, would be there…watching. Perhaps he had seen a small, slow movement from me, or perhaps he just, …knew. Will he come? Even If he suspects nothing there is little reason for him to continue across an open field on a bright, sunny morning during gun season, with plenty of heavy cover in the trees of the wood lot behind and around him.
I wait. The buck hesitates for a brief time, an eternity, and then trots calmly and purposely along the edge of the trees towards me. I am paralyzed. Though mostly ready, I’ve not yet had time to assess the situation or remember my role in it. My feet are only about six feet from the ground, and I know that he will see me and swap ends quickly if I move too fast. Still, I feel that he knows I’m there and can not change his course, and can somehow see himself moving, thru my eyes, as he crosses in front of my stand.
It’s now or never, and in one motion I come from behind his track and start to swing my shotgun bead towards his shoulder. He stops as if on command, as if this is his part in the choreography of a primordial dance, and this is the selected spot to place his feet. His body is perfectly broadside, with his head turned towards me and up, his nose shining in the sky.
There is no sound, no mind, no time, just our breath frozen in the air as I settle behind the gun. He waits patiently, gracefully, and completely at peace with what is about to come his way. Both parties share something all-knowing yet incomprehensible, without judgement. It is agreed. We have done this before and may do so again, god willing.
I don’t remember pulling the trigger, yet It ends as it must if you are a hunter. A life taken. I am too young to comprehend the full meaning of the act, yet somehow I know there is something more. It is an end, perhaps a beginning, I do not know. The circle complete, we are bonded. It is a gift of the deer and it is sacred.
I pray I will not forget, both then, and now.
“No Sound. No Mind. No Time…A Hunter’s Mind” – Michael Patrick McCarty
*Few moments in my hunting life have held more importance, my first whitetail buck – a sleek 6 pointer. It was 1971, and I was Thirteen. A hunter, I am.
“As I reflect on the experiences of yesterday and today, I find an important lesson in them, viewed in the light of wisdom taken from the earth and shaped by generations of elders. Two deer came and gave choices to me. One deer I took and we will now share a single body. The other deer I touched and we will now share the moment. These events could be seen as opposites, but perhaps they are identical. Both are founded on the same principles, the same relationship, the same reciprocity. Both are the same kind of gift…Something is only given in nature, never taken.” – Richard Nelson, The Island Within, 1989
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The original big-man stand, the Summit Goliath SD remains a huge favorite among hunters, and with good reason. Featuring the same comfort-engineered design as the Viper SD but with a wider top, the Goliath SD allows larger-framed hunters a little more room to move—with only a minimal gain in weight. At 21 lbs., the Goliath SD is still lightweight and portable enough to go everywhere you go and also boasts a larger, more comfortable seat. PROVEN RELIABILITY: Built to last, the Goliath SD Tree Stand is covered by Summit’s 5-Year Limited Warranty. DEADMETAL SOUND-DEADENING TECHNOLOGY: Critical parts of your tree stand’s platform are filled in with a custom-engineered expanding foam to reduce unintentional noises. QUICKDRAW CABLE RETENTION SYSTEM: The simplest, fastest and quietest cable attachment system ever invented, no fumbling with pins, knobs, nuts or bolts necessary. Size the cable to your tree’s diameter, insert the cable into the retention bracket, and the QuickDraw trigger locks securely in place. Pull the “trigger” to remove the stand from the tree. SUMMITLOKT STRUCTURAL ENHANCEMENT: High-quality extruded aluminum and precision welds provide maximum rigidity and strength. Each joint is “locked” into place before welding and designed so that stress its welds is minimized, for a stand that’s strong, safe, secure and silent. RAPIDCLIMB CLIMBING STIRRUPS: A standard feature on all Summit climbing stands, RapidClimb stirrups are easy to use and adjustable to fit any boot. Designed to keep your boot securely attached to the platform, these ergonomic stirrups allow you to quickly and safely climb to your desired height.
In 1994, a wildfire on Colorado’s Storm King Mountain was wrongly identified at the outset as occurring in South Canyon. This unintentional, seemingly minor human error was merely the first in a string of mistakes that would be compounded into one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of firefighting. Before it was done, fourteen courageous firefighters—men and women, hotshots, smokejumpers, and helicopter crew—would lose their lives battling the deadly, so-called South Canyon blaze. John N. Maclean’s award-winning national bestseller Fire on the Mountain is a stunning reconstruction of the killer conflagration and its aftermath.
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October 23, 2015
Today I hunted Mule Deer on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Climbing hard in the false dawn from the river below, I soon found myself enveloped in a gray, somber day, with light rain, low clouds, and misty vapors all around. It seemed a most appropriate collection of weather conditions for the moment at hand.
This is, however, not so much a story about big game hunting, as it is about, something else. I fully intended to kill a deer, but in the end, did not. Neither did I see a deer, and not one fresh track appeared in the mud within the view held tightly below the bill of my hat and hood.
Perhaps it was because the mulies were still tucked into cover, discouraged by the heavy rains of the last few days. Or perhaps it was because our usual snows had yet to appear in even the highest parts of the high country, and the deer had not yet migrated down to the lower elevations. Maybe, just maybe, it was just not the day to kill a deer.
But I came for other reasons too.
Fourteen fire fighters died on this mountain on July 6, 1994. Officially named the South Canyon Fire, it began with a lightning storm on July 2, and rapidly escalated from there. Fire crews were scrambling to catch up right from the start, and the town of Glenwood Springs was solidly in the crosshairs.
Residents prepared for the worst in terms of property damage and financial ruin, but no one could have predicted such a shocking course of events.
I remember exactly where I was sitting when the announcement of their deaths was relayed over the local radio. The impact of the news hit me like a sledge to the most vulnerable parts of my innards, so close to home, and not just because it had happened right down the road.
I was a fire lookout on a high peak in the Salmon River Wilderness of Idaho in the early 1980’s, and then after that an occasional firefighter as part of my duties with the U.S. Forest Service. I would like to think that I know just a little about wildfire, though I hate to imagine the panic and abject terror they must have felt as the flames overtook them.
Wildfire can put a fear in you like no other natural force on earth, and I have felt that fear firsthand. Fighting fires is an unnatural occupation, but one, nevertheless, that must be done. I would not be exaggerating to say that I have sweated and toiled alongside some of the most dedicated and indomitable people the planet has ever known. I became a far better person as a result.
Once, so many years ago, I called in a small lightning strike from my perch atop the mountain and then watched in utter amazement as a dozen smokejumpers hurled themselves out of a perfectly good airplane, only to land in a field of jumbled boulders and dead and dangerous snags for their troubles. They successfully contained the fire over a 24 hour period, without rest or sleep, and then humped their gear through snarled terrain to an exit point a few miles away. Those observations continue to influence my opinions on what it means to be “tough”.
Who would do that? Who would risk their lives to save oak brush and pinion and homes, often against impossible odds? Why did I do it?
That answer has never fully come to me, and it is far too easy to put myself in their boots. This could have been me. It might have been me, dying down in hot winds and flame, under some not so different circumstances. I feel for them. I grieve for them. They are my brothers, and sisters, who have left us behind far too soon.
Fire will have its way once it makes up its mind, and there is nothing to be done for it but to get out of its way. They did try, we know that they tried, but only nature and god knew their fate in advance. And though I cannot speak for them I would like to think that their soul’s may find some comfort in knowing that the South Canyon Fire and their ultimate sacrifice changed forever the way that wildfires are managed and fought.
Fire, in its infinite wisdom, consumes all that is presented before it. It does so without judgement, malice, or aforethought, no matter what we may believe. But life returns, and wildfire is also the great rejuvenator. It cleanses with impossible heat and complete conviction, and clears the way for new growth and replenished habitat in an endless circle of beginnings and endings.
In this case it created many hundreds of acres of mule deer winter range, and in the end, improved wildlife habitat for a multitude of creatures. It would seem far too small a compensation for so many human lives gone, but then, who am I to say? I am but one man, often so lost, in such a vast and unpredictable universe. Perhaps it is not for me to judge what is right and what is wrong, fair or unfair, nor to fully understand the true meaning of it all.
It took me twenty years to visit this place; to brace myself for the painful journey. I did not know them. I never met them, to my knowledge. But, I do feel them there, watching. I hope that they are not too sad, and that they do not miss this world so much. I pray that they feel some peace in knowing that they were doing some great things in the world, on that mountain of storm. I have no doubt that they never felt more alive, fighting for what they believed, in that wild and untamed country that they loved.
I know that there were hunter’s among the group, and I hope that they approved of my visit. I came to hunt deer, for myself, and for them. I came to honor the offering of kindred spirits, and bow my head in reverence. I hope that they were able to feel some of the joy that I feel when I hunt, a free man with a rifle on his shoulder and miles of unexplored territory ahead.
They remind us that life is precious, and short, and that any time spent hunting where there is still room left to roam is not to be taken for granted.
We will not forget.
May they rest in peace, with eagles overhead, and mule deer, and wild beings, and life, all around, forever.
“In storm and cloud and wind and sky, In heart and mind and hand and eyes, A bond still binds too strong to tell, All those who flew with those who fell”. – Anonymous. Found on the Plaque at The Storm King Memorial
“Time is the hunter of all men, and no one knows this better than we do. That knowledge gives us perspective, and direction. A hunter is never lost in this great big world, not in life, nor even in death… “- Michael Patrick McCarty
You can read more about the Storm King Fire and Other Fires Here
Below, are a few excerpts:
“For many of the specially trained crews that battle mountain wildfires in the American West, it was a blaze that made it more acceptable for firefighters to speak up or even decline assignments they consider too dangerous—once a rare occurrence that could result in a firing or ostracism in a profession that requires aggressive, type A personalities. No official report articulated that change, but among many firefighters it was an understood lesson of South Canyon.
The South Canyon blaze, which scorched 2,115 acres, accelerated technical advances in battling wildfires, from a new generation of fire shelters—small, protective “mummy” bags carried by firefighters that can be their defense of last resort from flames—to improved communications. “Immediately, we all had radios,” said one South Canyon survivor, Eric Hipke.
South Canyon also sparked more scrutiny of fire officials’ decision-making and strategies in battling deadly fires, and led to changes in the National Weather Service’s fire weather forecasting division, which doubled its number of fire weather forecasters and found ways to deliver up-to-the-minute weather information—including crucial details about wind, which can fuel a fire and its direction—to forecasters in the field. (Related: “Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans.”)
After South Canyon, “incident meteorologists became rock stars,” said Chris Cuoco, the meteorologist whose accurate prediction of a dangerous weather shift during the South Canyon Fire never reached the firefighters on the mountain.
It’s widely accepted within the firefighting community that these and other lessons of the South Canyon Fire have saved lives during the past two decades. Even so, the dangers of fighting wildfires in the hot, dry summer remain real”.
The Backcountry Meat Bags from Allen are specifically designed to hold your game meat. Lightweight and easy to pack, these breathable, wicking, high performance bags are recommended for deer, sheep, antelope, elk, and caribou. Pack of 4 20″ x 30″ meat bags.
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My head throbs and the blood sings in my ears as I slowly climb towards the new day, and when I look behind I can already see my truck parked far below in a meadow of willows and lush green grass.
It had been a rough night with little sleep, but I had put a bull elk to bed here the evening before and I was exhilarated by the prospects of the coming hunt. It is a feeling for which I have found no match in that other world we all mostly live in. The world of bills and mortgages, marriage and children, business, and so on.
At that moment I am a free and joyful being with the promise of new country ahead, and I tend to wax poetic at the drop of a hat, if at least in my own mind. It has always been times like this that I am most clear and most right with the world. I am hunting. I am alive. I love elk, elk hunting, and elk hunters. Or should I say that most of the time I do, for it is not easy to find love in my present condition. I have a terrible mountain hangover, made worse because it is a hangover derived without the pleasures of drink.
I have become more than a little touchy at altitude these days, and the night before had again brought headache, shortness of breath, and the beginnings of altitude sickness. I’ve got to stop hunting at 11,000 feet, I told myself. I had said that for the last three years too, but of course I had convinced myself that things would be different this year, better, and here I am again. Hunting the high country of Colorado is an annual ritual that I cannot forego; to miss it would be more than I could bear. A bull elk bugling among towering peaks and impossibly blue skies can do wonders for one’s attitude and make most troubles seem far, far away.
This morning is different though, and it is a reminder of some realities I have done my best to ignore. At the age of fifty, and with over thirty years of elk hunting behind me, it has become obvious that these mountains are getting steeper and it seems almost impossible to cover the ground I once did. My bow seems heavier, and I don’t see my sight pins so good anymore. As I gasp for air and cling to a small spruce tree to keep from falling backwards, my body screams with the thought that maybe, just maybe, this endeavor is really not fun anymore. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if I happen to put an elk down in some impenetrable canyon far from camp. I have done it before, and this consideration is always in the back of my mind, like some recurring night terror I wish not to confront but march determinedly towards, ever closer.
To put things simply, I hurt. My body seems to be put together with junk parts that are worn and metal fatigued. I’ve got a knee that has bothered me for years from a knee cap smashing fall in a river, and it smarts like the dickens if I tweak it the wrong way, which is often. The other’s not so good either, and on a bad day I can tweak both knees, like today. It would be comical to watch me hobble about if it were not so sad. The toes on my right foot have suddenly decided that they no longer fit in my boots. In fact, my feet don’t seem to work quite right and appear to belong to someone else. The bottom of my soles seem to always catch some unseen obstacle as I stumble about at the risk of losing my dignity, grateful that no one is near to witness the spectacle of it all. I’m carrying way too much weight, and I’m not talking about what’s stashed in my pack.
It’s early in the season and the day warms quickly, and the sweat runs down my forehead as my glasses fog over. Is is really worth it, says I? Do I really want an elk that badly? At fifty, I may not be too old to hunt elk this way, but I fear that I have a pretty good view of the end of the road from here. I think of some of my friends, and realize with some sadness that it is already too late for some, and I wonder just how that happened. Only yesterday we were quite a little group of extreme elk hunters.
But now, a great friend has some chronic health problems and he spends much more time on his ATV then I know he would like. Another has found religion and for this or some other reason rarely hunts anymore. A friend that I had lost touch with informed me the other day that he has had not one, but both hips replaced, and will now leave elk hunting for the younger hunters. And another is the father of a young son that he loves beyond words, and he spends his time teaching him what he has learned of the mountains in his fifty years, caring not if he ever again takes another elk for himself. I don’t see them much anymore. I miss them, and I miss who we were.
A faint, whistling bugle snaps me from my circumstance, and at once my attention is focused like a beacon in the gloom. My heart skips a beat, and all my minor ailments, in fact all my troubles, vanish as if left behind for some other person still rooted on the steep slope below.
It takes some doing, but I struggle to the top and sit for sometime, until another bugle, closer, allows me to get a better bearing and plan a strategy. I cow call several times, and another bugle from my left lets me know that there are two bulls coming my way. I need a shooting lane, and I pick a spot to set up and must cover ten more yards. As I take the last step and begin to kneel, I hear the all too familiar crash of spooked elk, and I see hide flash through the trees and a bit of antler from both bulls. My last half step was one too many, and I have bumped them. I cow call in vain, already knowing what the result will be. Soon, I sit and smile and have a pull from my canteen. Just another “almost” in decades of “almosts” and very close calls.
“Catch Me If You Can” Photograph Courtesy of David Massender of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
This is why it is called elk hunting and not elk shooting. Bowhunting can be so frustrating. Still, I am happy because this is success, in many ways. It is a new area for me, and the elk are here as I had suspected. For a long time most of my favorite hunting spots were largely untouched and I had little competition with other hunter’s. Hunting pressure has always been a consideration on public lands, but lately it seems that someone has beat me to almost every spot, and for a time it upset me. I’ve had to search for new spots, never knowing if it was worth the walk, or if I would find other hunters.
I’ve noticed something different though. My competition all seem to be much younger than I remember, and they all look hungry. They look fit…eager, and determined. They drive beefy, jacked up jeeps, with large tires and lots of chrome parts shining in the sun. I don’t recognize the music blaring from their open tops.
Their smiles are broad and have that certain twist, and the glint in their eyes tell me that the long and grueling hike they just completed was just a warmup. They can’t wait to coffee up and leave me behind, as they strike out to see what’s over the next ridge. It suddenly dawned on me that they remind me of my friends and I – many years ago. Hell, they are us, I thought, and now I know that this is simply the natural progression of things in our world. We are here to pass the torch, and the young guns are more than happy to receive it, even if they have to pry it from some of our hands. I for one will not go down easily.
I agree with many who feel that a hunter is born and not made. I believe that a wise father knows that desire can be encouraged, but not coerced. Yet, an elk hunter must find some further dimension, grasp it tightly, and hold onto it for all he’s worth. In the end, the final product is hammered from iron, tempered by fire and ice, and honed to a razor’s edge by deep, dark canyons, jumbled black timber, and high windswept ridges.
A path so chosen produces legs of spring steel, the lungs of a mountain sherpa, and the heart of a young and fearless lion. An elk hunter must be confident and sure-footed, like the mountain goat on an impossible ledge. Above all, he must be eternally optimistic and willing to improve his skills and knowledge in the teeth of setback and hardship. For it is not easy, this elk hunting.
An elk, after all, is more than happy to accommodate the most determined individual. The more I hunt them, the more respect I have for every aspect of their nature. As worldly survivors they have few equals. Build a luxury golf course on their winter range, and come the heavy snows you will finding them lunching at the ninth tee and sleeping by the barbecue pit in the backyard of the neighboring house. Let loose a few elk in some of the west’s most forbidding country, throw in enough water and some sparse vegetation, and watch them thrive and multiply. Place an arrow from an errant shot in a non vital area of his anatomy, and if it is not too bad he will suck it up and hang low until the wound heels and he can be found bugling in the same spot next year. Elk give perspective to the concept of what it means to be tough.
From our point of view he is a pitiless and unaffected creature, and he expects nothing of you that he would not expect of himself. He is a “game animal” with a lot of game. He believes strongly in equal opportunity, for he will take on all comers with hardly a care. Should you decide to enter his backyard and hunt him, you can tread lightly and show little effort, like many, and experience small success, like most. Hunt him big, and you can peg the throttles until the rockets burn out. He can take it. Can you? Your choice.
Once committed, he will meet you head on and wear you out physically and mentally, a little or a lot. He can grind your hopes into gritty powder and turn your dreams into nightmarish obsessions. He will turn and happily watch from the hill above, as you beat yourself bloody on the rocks. He waits, until you sheepishly stop to pat yourself and make sure that nothing is permanently broken. Pick your poison, because it is all the same to him. In the end, your efforts are most often fruitless and only slightly annoying to him, and he shakes it all off like a december frost upon his back. If you are lucky or good, or both, and you take him, it’s O.K. too. It’s nature’s way, and the only way he knows. To take an animal in this adventure means little. It is the effect upon your person that matters, and if in the end your character is better or worse for the effort.
Last week I hunted with a very close friend who just happens to be the best elk hunter I have ever known. His hunting skills are just simply on a whole other level than us mere mortals, and he has always defined the term “advanced” in the concept of advanced elk hunting. I pick my friends wisely, I guess. Just a few short months ago he underwent major surgery, with complications to follow. While recovering from his complications, a blood clot suddenly passed through his lungs and could have killed him. Later, a second clot should have killed him, but did not. He suffered some minor lung damage, and had not completely healed from his ordeal. The doctor had told him that it was not quite time to hunt, but opening day is opening day and not often found on a doctor’s calendar. I suspect that the doctor may have disagreed with the idea more forcefully, had he known my friend’s style of elk hunting.
He wanted to hunt for big mule deer on our favorite ridges above timberline, and I had an elk tag. At first light we spotted several good bucks on the open slopes, and knew immediately that this was going to be a good day. Yet, as eager as we were to get started I thought I detected some slight hesitation from him as he geared up. We would have to move a long way down before climbing a long way back up in order to get around and ahead of the bucks. Our first step towards the bucks committed us to some tough hiking.
Our plans worked well, and we had continuous action well into mid morning. The bucks were numerous and respectable, and we attempted a couple of classic stalks on bedded deer. It was high country mule deer heaven, and it was a wonder just to be there. My friend was not able to let an arrow fly, but by all measures it was a successful day. Played out, yet satisfied, we turned for home with the promise of a cold drink in out near future .
On our way, however, we glassed two small bulls feeding in a meadow far below. My friend was determined to go after them, because I had helped him with his deer hunt and he wanted to return the favor. I tried to talk him out of the idea, but already knew he would have none of it. I knew by watching him that he was in great pain, even though he tried his best to hide it. I also knew that the last thing he needed was to drop off another impossible ridge and lose the precious elevation we had recently gained, and adding even more miles to our trip. Truth be known, I knew I would hurt badly before this day was done. I hoped I could make it.
We were very nearly successful in taking one of those bulls that afternoon, and surely would have had not the always troublesome mountain winds swirled at the last second. Left with a merciless climb ahead, I tried to concentrate on the ground just past my nose and could only wonder what we had been thinking. Towards the top, I struggled with all I had and had ever had to keep up with my friend’s unrelenting pace. I was glad I could not see the pain on his face, because it might have broke me.
Nearing the top, I practically had to lift my legs with my own arms and the thought of crawling was a distinct consideration. The fact that my friend had out hiked me in his condition would have embarrassed me had I not discovered the solid and unbreakable foundations of his character many hunts ago. After all – he is god’s own elk hunter, marching on.
The look on his face as he drove from camp later that day told me all I needed to know, which was that he had pushed himself past the limits that even he was aware he possessed, and I felt badly that I had contributed to his pain. He called me a few days later to let me know how much he had enjoyed our hunt together. In fact, he told me that it had been the best day of bowhunting in his life and he wanted to know when we could go again. When indeed? We shall hunt together soon, should the god’s smile again and we are both still standing, I thought. I am glad he could not see the emotion on my face.
At the age of fifty, I have learned that life, and death, has a way of placing things in proper perspective for those who listen. Hopefully, with age comes the wisdom to know what is important and what is not, and with it the courage to face the choice. My physical skills and mental drive have declined precipitously, and it is hard not to mourn for them and become despondent over the loss. I am aware that I am certainly not the elk hunter that I once was, but that is good. I also know that I would not be the man I am today had I not hunted elk, and that is better. Elk have a way of marking the true bearings of a man in a way known only to himself.
Occasionally, the meaning of life can be reduced to the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, and the only question left in the end is if you will, or will not, take that step. For me, that silent footfall will always contain more meaning when placed next to the deep and profound track of an animal most loved.
What more can be said of elk, of life, and of a hunter’s heart?
The stories in this anthology demonstrate why the pheasant has become America’s favorite game bird. Some of the finest writers in the field take their best shots at the Ringneck, covering guns, dogs, lore, history, conservation, and even some tried and true methods for preparing your pheasant for consumption.
Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only
Where would we be as outdoorsmen, and as human beings, if not for the people in our lives who took us hunting?
It is a question not so easily answered, though at least we get to ask it. Sadly, a steadily increasingly group of young people never get that chance. In most cases I can only grieve for the loss that they will never fully understand, while staring upward and thanking the heavens for the sportsmen of my youth.
It was only a natural way to be in the world in which I grew up. My father had been a hunter all of his life, and his father was too. To be true so were my uncles and cousins, my brothers, friends, and our neighbors. There was always someone to go hunting with and a shotgun was never far out of hand.
We hunted small game and deer and birds of all kinds, but pheasants – pheasants were a special creature. There were not many to be found in our corner of the uplands, and those that remained were wary and smarter than smart. It was a big event to bag a hefty, redheaded cockbird.
If you are like me then there is no doubt that you remember your first cackling rooster rising like a shimmering phoenix in the sky. The memory of that long-tailed vision burns brightly in the mind, ready for access at a moment’s notice. Mine is a mind full of ring-necks.
I hold my treasure trove of remembrances most dearly, yet it occurs to me that It is only right to return the favor. I am more than willing to share that long list of images in my head, though I would be most happy to help you gain your own.
One thing can be said.
Take a boy, or a girl, hunting – today. It is a responsibility and an honor, and in fact a debt that must be repaid.
We can only be as strong as the sum total of our experience, and I cannot comprehend a life barely lived without the solid grounds of woods and field beneath the boots. The pursuit of wild things is a foundational activity, built upon the realities of the natural world and the spirit of the quickening heart. It is an opportunity to learn some core moral values, while becoming part of something much larger than one’s self.
We owe it to our mentors to carry the torch; to help ignite that undying spark in the imagination and energy of the next generation. I can think of no greater reward than to be remembered fondly in the thoughts of the grateful and fortunate soul of a hunter.
It is only but a moment of memory, and a towering pheasant, away.
“If Christmas came on the Fourth of July and it also happened to be your birthday, you might have some idea of what a first pheasant is like on a clear, crisp Maryland day, with the hills behind, and the tender-green meadows reaching out to black-green blotches of trees, and nothing very much to do but watch a couple of expert dogs work over the noblest Oriental stranger we have in our midst, while two mellowed old gentlemen do not interfere with a boy’s passionate effort. They were not shooting; they had been there before. It took me another thirty years to find out how much fun you have not shooting if there is somebody else around who wants to shoot it more than you do”.
-From The Old Man and The Boy by Robert Ruark
See our other favorite Robert Ruark Quote at the bottom of our post Here
*We generally have for sale some collectable copies of Ruark’s books. Please email for more information.
Read More About Black Canyon Wing and Clay HERE, and a recipe for marinade.
Wondering what do to next with your bird? Try This:
2 pheasants (cut into pieces)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup fig, plum, or apricot jam
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in a little water until soft, then chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 dried ancho chiles, with stems and seeds removed and then ground
2 minced garlic gloves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste
8 large flour tortillas
Brown pheasant pieces on both sides in broiler or hot skillet. Boil remaining ingredients(tortillas excluded) in a covered sauce pan. Add the pheasant and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until done. Let cool, then pull the meat from the bones and set aside. Stain the sauce and return to heat. Reduce over medium heat by about 1/3. salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with warm tortillas, topped with pheasant meat and sauce.
Enjoy with your favorite extras and wine, then prepare to get ready for your next pheasant hunt.
*This recipe taken from At Mesa’s Edge: Cooking and Ranching in Colorado’s North Fork Valley by Eugenia Bone.
It’s a lovely read about life in this unique area of northwestern Colorado, with some wonderful recipes using the area’s plentiful bounty. It includes some wild game recipes too.
Apparently, the proper thing to do these days when you miss a deer is to quickly cover your head with your hunting hat and reach for your nearby smartphone. Or at least this young Wisconsin hunter thought so.
Can you say buck fever?
nervousness felt by novice hunters when they first sight game.
Not to fret, young deer huntress (yes, this is a young lady here). We’ve all been there, some more than once, whether we will admit it or not.
And to think, in my day you simply froze in complete, unmitigated panic until the animal walked off, and then hung on to the nearest limb with all of your arms and legs and with everything you had for an hour or more.
So you did not fall out of your treestand… As if your life depended on it…Because if you were high enough in the tree, it probably did.
At least that’s what I’ve heard…
“He grouped his last five shots right in the center of the bull’s-eye. Then I showed him my technique of scattering shots randomly around the target because, as I explained, you never know which way the deer might jump just as you pull the trigger.” — Patrick McManus, The Hunting Lesson, February 1983
One That Did Not Get Away
Mark Miller from Mauston, Wisconsin and a deer of a lifetime. I don’t know if he had any buck fever, but there is certainly no ground shrinkage here!
Amazingly durable and dependably water repellent. Rolls with the punches when the rain rolls in. Lightweight yet warm, wear the gilliam by itself on warmer days or as a layer on chillier days. Made with a 1.75-ounce, 100 percent nylon cord ur a shell and nylon lining quilted to 100gram polyester insulation this jacket also features a mock-neck collar, left-chest map pocket, two lower-front pockets, two inside pockets: one with a zipper closure and one with a hook-and-loop closure, additionally the lower pockets have a hidden snap closure and this jacket also has a drawcord adjustable hem, triple-stitched main seams for durability and a drop tail for added coverage with a length of 28 inches for regular sizes and 30 inches for tall sizes.
$62.80 – $148.49
Teaching Your Kids About Hunting
Children and hunting are two of the greatest joys in life. What better way to have the best day than combine your two favorite things? While teaching children about hunting might prove to be challenging, it is also one of the greatest lessons you can teach your kids as well as one of the most rewarding for you. Here are a few tips to get started.
Put Safety First
Hunting is dangerous, so when teaching your kids, make sure they get the message. Teach your child the responsibility of handling weapons, and practice with them before hitting the woods. Remind your kids that hunting might be fun, but it isn’t a game.
Get the Gear
You and your child should be outfitted for the hunt, from your boots to your hat. Don’t forget lots of orange (see the safety point above). Purchase quality gear from trusted retailers like Carhartt, and enjoy it for years to come.
Remember what it was like when you were learning to shoot a gun or throw a ball? Your child will be experiencing the same things as you teach them about hunting, so be patient. Also, don’t withhold praise. If they are doing a good job, let them know.
Be a Role Model
Children love to do whatever adults do. It’s the plight of childhood. Be the type of hunter you want your children to be. Part of being a great hunter and role model is keeping a positive attitude. Whether the deer get spooked or the shot isn’t aimed perfectly, stay composed and positive. There will always be more deer, but you can’t replace a moment to teach your kids about positivity.
Hunting isn’t just about bringing home the venison. Hunters are conservationists, and that plays a huge role into the sport. Teach your child about harvesting only what they need as well as the balance of giving and taking. Explain how hunters play a role in population control and what you can do to ensure these animals, as well as the land, trees and vegetation, are still around for their children.
Connect with the Outdoors
Hunting is more than making a kill. It’s about connecting with nature. Encourage your kids to take everything in, from the birds chirping to the wind in the grass to the vines growing up the tall oaks. You could even take a minute to enjoy nature and discuss the hunter’s role in maintaining the ecosystem, from keeping the balance to not disturbing nests.
Make a Tradition
While we love passing down a good hunting tradition, you can also use this time with your kids to create new traditions. It will make the hunt even more special to the kids, and it will be a great tradition they can pass down to their kids.
Children are the future of hunting. It is our responsibility as adults, mentors and parents to teach them the right way to hunt. This way the tradition of hunting can be passed down through the generations. We love hunting, and we hope the next generation carries on our longstanding traditions for years to come. Good luck with your young ones, and don’t forget the camo!
As Ortega Y Gasset so famously said, “We do not hunt to kill, we kill in order to have hunted”
As you can see, wiser philosophers than I, and other people of the hunt have weighed in on the subject of hunting since the dawn of man. Just look at some of the amazing cave art found around the world if you don’t believe that.
My thoughts about hunting are simple, and complicated. In the end, I hunt because I can. I hunt because “I am” … a hunter. I make no apologies in that regard.
Here are some of my feelings on the matter.
Care to share some of yours?
Some Selected Excerpts
“We can only be as strong as the sum total of our experience, and I cannot comprehend a life barely lived without the solid grounds of woods and field beneath the boots. The pursuit of wild things is a foundational activity, built upon the realities of the natural world and the spirit of the quickening heart. It is an opportunity to learn some core moral values, while becoming part of something much larger than one’s self”. – From a Pheasantful of Memories
“There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there”. – FromForever Humbled.
“A few things I know. A hunter’s fate is determined by his relationship with, and actions upon, the mountain. It probably would not be a mountain goat hunt without a fall of some kind somewhere in the mix, and hopefully I have now had mine. A man’s knee will lose a battle with a rock each and every time, and I am probably not the first person that these goats have observed bashing themselves upon the boundaries of their bedroom.
Perhaps that tired old euphemism is true, sometimes, and what did not kill me will make me stronger. I have been initiated upon the altar of stone, and may now have some protection against further mishaps. My boots will be set down more precisely from now on.
No matter what happens, blame cannot be placed at the feet of the goats. They are just being goats, and what becomes of this insignificant, two-legged animal is not their concern. They know as well as any creature on earth the perils of miscalculation, and the mortal ramifications of a misstep. They live with those truths for practically every breath of their life”. – From Careless For Just A Second Can Get You Killed.
“At that moment I see through other eyes, from some other time. A hint of memory flashes and reveals this place as it looked long, long ago. I see the ancestors there, huddled in the mist beneath heavy robes of fur, watching, waiting. I see their spears and primitive weapons, eager to sink their sharpness into hide and flesh. I hear their footfalls and their labored breath heaving in their chest. I feel the spear’s blade upon my hand, at the razor’s edge of all things. They are but a heartbeat away.” FromSacred Ground.
Elk give perspective to the concept of what it means to be tough.
From our point of view he is a pitiless and unaffected creature, and he expects nothing of you that he would not expect of himself. He is a “game animal” with a lot of game. He believes strongly in equal opportunity, for he will take on all comers with hardly a care. Should you decide to enter his backyard and hunt him, you can tread lightly and show little effort, like many, and experience small success, like most. Hunt him big, and you can peg the throttles until the rockets burn out. He can take it. Can you? Your choice.
Once committed, he will meet you head on and wear you out physically and mentally, a little or a lot. He can grind your hopes into gritty powder and turn your dreams into nightmarish obsessions. He will turn and happily watch from the hill above, as you beat yourself bloody on the rocks. He waits, until you sheepishly stop to pat yourself and make sure that nothing is permanently broken…” – From An Elk Hunter Looks At Fifty
I warn them several times to stay clear of my knife in case I slip, but they never miss an opportunity to touch or prod or examine in some way this elk. Their mother has sternly warned them to not ruin their cloths, and both their father and I reminded them more than once. For all the good it does. They want to be close, to smell its’ smell and lay their fingers on its teeth. Even in death, they want to become part of its life. These two are hunters, make no mistake, and I’m proud to be with them on this mountain at this moment in time when two young people chose to join us all in the adventure that we love. – From How It Ought To Be
“Time is the hunter of all men, and no one knows this better than we do. That knowledge gives us perspective, and direction. In that regard we are never lost in this great big world, not in life, nor even in death… ” –Michael Patrick McCarty
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A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit