Monday, December 15, 2008

Unfilled, yet not unfulfilling...

(not my picture!)

After many years of trying I was fortunate enough to draw an cow elk tag. I was lucky enough to get the tag I wanted in the area I wanted. And after many years away from home (Rexburg, Idaho) in my home away from home (Mesa, Arizona) I had heard story after story of herds of elk walking up to the truck and asking politely to be shot and taken home for a bounteous feast. I was well aware that my much anticipated hunting season would probably be depressingly short. Only because I would probably see my first big cow shortly after pulling out of my driveway and bag her there, leaving the next four weeks for me to reminisce the 5 minutes of exhilarating adventure and hard fought trophy hunting. I mean certainly Ernest Hemingway would be proud right? "The air was musky with her scent, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up with the electric thrill of the hunt. I stalked my pray through the crunchy fall grass, until she was startled... by a passing car."
Well fate had something else mind for me because I didn't fill that tag on the first day of the hunt or the last for that matter. And although my freezer is a lot emptier than I would have liked, the opportunity to be out in the woods and connect to that primal nature that is so often repressed in our modern society filled my soul. I didn't have the opportunity to shoot my elk from the road, but I did see some from the road for just a split second. The adrenaline that dumps into my body at that time is as sweet as anything I have ever experienced and I imagine that is what a junkie feels like when getting high. Unlike the junkie however I can get my high each time I am in the woods without the negative repercussions. In fact to me, chasing an elk or deer through almost knee deep snow and trees as thick as peanut butter is about as pure of high as one can get. As I walked high ridges along the tree lines, my senses were heightened to the point where I could imagine some long gone ancestor far down the gene pool stalking his pray for survival.

And being in mountain lion and grizzly bear country just prior to the long winter I was cognisant of the possibility of being hunted myself. It is exhilarating.
When I hunt, fish, hike or camp I often feel myself compelled to pray. Sometimes I drop to me knees and pray out loud, often I pray silently but fervently in my heart with gratitude for the blessings of being able to be in the middle of God's most natural and beautiful creations. The spirituality of it to me is probably the biggest part of the high. It also engenders a great feeling of responsibility or stewardship for what God has given us. It makes me never want to litter, to make sure that I would never kill needlessly or wastefully, and to try and share my passion for the outdoors through my experiences if I can. I would love for everyone to feel the way I do. Then I probably wouldn't see so many beer cans along the side of the roads or trails while I'm out and about. What I did see though will give me memories that won't fade for a long time. The Murphy's law of hunting says that you will see whatever types of animals you are not hunting. True to form in the four or so weeks I was hunting and about 6-7 hunting trips I saw over 40 dear including 28 in one day. Two beautiful Muley bucks, two equally beautiful (but smaller) whitetail bucks (which I have never seen before in the wild), 6-8 wild turkeys, an enormous Golden eagle,

sage hens,

forest grouse (some of which I did shoot including one great head shot with my 40 cal sig sauer), sharp tail grouse,an antelope, and close to 20 moose both bulls and cows.

On one trip we cut some fresh tracks and stopped the truck. It was eerily quiet and a very grey cold day on the mountain. There was some fresh snow and these tracks were the best we had seen all day. Just in case, my mom (yes she hunts, and has killed more big game than I have), and I decided to follow them for a while and see if we could get into the 3-4 elk that appeared to have crossed the road there. We followed as quietly as we could through the trees walking slowly and trying to step at the same time. After some time and distance I heard a snap in the trees and and some clomping of hooves in the snow. I dropped to my knee and tried to see through the dense trees. I caught some movement ahead of me as I peered low around the trunks of the trees. I saw a large set of ears flicker and pulled up my rifle while I tried to catch my breath. I waited for a moment and then I couldn't see anything but the frost of my breath in the air. I signaled to my mom and crept forward as quietly as I could. After a short distance I found the beds of 3-4 large animals were they had spent quite some time in the snow resting. I realized I must have spooked them out of their beds and wondered how far they would go. We followed their tracks through the trees and again I heard the crackling of a large body moving through the trees. Just then a loud sound startled me, at first I thought it was a grouse that had flew but it sounded too big. All of the sudden one of the biggest raven I have seen flew over head and I could literally hear the air being forced over and through its feathers as it pushed its way through the heavy grey sky. It disappeared into the trees again and I once more caught movement ahead of me in the woods. Just then I saw the whole head of the animal I had been trailing. A huge bull moose with its long beard hanging below its chin and a great set of antlers the spoons of which were much broader and wider than any I had previously seen this year.
The moose was majestic, there really is now other way of describing it, short of a big grizzly or Alaskan bear, or a big buffalo there isn't a bigger mammal that I know of native to North America. Oh and maybe the Sasquatch. Then as this beauty was scratching around in the snow I saw another set of legs, then more antlers. Then again and again until I had counted 3 bulls and what I believe was a cow. Soon a bull grunted, it was a low moo, like a domestic cow but much deeper and more aggressive. Soon two moose were pawing the ground in front of them and grunting. Steam was coming from their noses with each grunt. The two big bulls lowered their heads and locked antlers, thrashing their heads back and forth rattling in the trees and grunting at each other. Although it looked fairly aggressive I had the impression that these two young bulls were playing. It did give me a very healthy respect for their ability to be hostile and to cause serious damage if provoked. I stood a few yards from my mom and watched them tussle about 20 yards from us. It was amazing to be so close to these powerful animals and watch them interact this way. Mom and I looked at each other and grinned. Usually when you see a moose ,even in the woods, they give an impression of slowness and even stupidity. These moose were anything but that. They were powerful, they were playful, they were beautiful. Sharing something like this with my mom was one of the best moments of my life. As we looked at each other and quietly whispered we knew that we were seeing something in real life that many people would never even seen on tv, and perhaps would never appreciate it when and if they did. My mind was racing as fast as my heart and I was so grateful to be alive.
Eventually the moose began to walk off doubling back around us and, I think, heading back to the beds we had chased them out of. They weren't the elk I had been hunting, but they still provided an amazing trophy that could beat any record in my book. As mom and I hiked back to the road discussing our good fortune I totally forget about being cold and wet, I forgot about being hungry, I forgot that my hunt was almost over and my tag would soon go unfilled. I forgot about all these things, and thought about how fulfilling life can be.