Another successful hunt

by Chef Boy Ari

Every time I go elk hunting, I’m successful. Last week, for example, I was sneaking though the woods and I saw a cow elk about 50 yards away. She looked at me looking at her. Nobody moved.

With her body behind trees, the only shot I had was at her head – an easy shot at 50 yards. But for reasons I’ll get to in a moment, a head shot might have been disastrous. All of a sudden the elk decided I was no good. She turned and hustled away.

But I had my ace-in-the-hole: my cow call – widely recognized as an effective way to stop a moving elk long enough to get a good shot off. As the cow hastily quit the scene, I blew my cow call.

I blew it, all right. In my spastic excitement, I blew that cow call so hard it made a high-pitched sound like an alarm, rather than the casual “mew” I intended. At the sound of my warning, five other elk, heretofore invisible and unknown to me, bailed too. If I wasn’t on a sprained ankle I might have tried running with them. I’ve heard you can do that.

Instead, after the shock of my missed opportunity had softened to a dull ache, I pushed on, hoping to find some more. That’s when I heard a rumbling sound, like being 200 yards away from a railroad crossing where the longest freight train in the world is rolling by. It was like the opening scene in Star Wars, when the big bad Imperial Cruiser goes by, getting impossibly bigger as it keeps going and going by the camera. This herd of elk, rumbling away by the hundreds, was more elk than I’d seen in all of my past lifetimes combined.

While this was going on, my buddy Astrisk shot a cow elk on the other side of the ridge. Through a miscommunication on our two-way radios, I thought he wanted help carrying it out. I spent the rest of my day looking for him, and by the time I got there the work was done. Yep, it was a successful day.

The day before, Astrisk had run over my gun with his pickup. It was leaned against the side of the truck. He backed up. The gun fell down. His front tires ran over it. I’m stupid for letting that happen to my gun.

It took most of the ammo I had left to sight in my gun again at an impromptu range I set up in a nearby draw. Although it seemed to shoot straight, I still had reservations about using the gun. That’s why a head shot, even at 50 yards, wasn’t what I wanted. No blown-off jaws, please. I wanted the biggest target of all, the vitals behind the front leg. I didn’t get that shot, so I didn’t shoot. And the next day I didn’t see a damn thing.

I gotta say, it’s been a tough hunting season. I feel like a teen-ager again, when everyone was losing their virginity but me. I’m questioning my manhood, I’m feeling like I’m wasting my time, and I’m contemplating vegetarianism. I’m going to hunt my ass off until the end of the season.

And while the feelings of inadequacy sometimes have their way with me as I roam the high mountains, during certain moments of clarity, I’m immune. I’m walking in silence, squeezing elk turds, totally blissed out and at peace. I’m hearing raven sounds I’ve never heard before, seeing mule deer with racks like chandeliers, and slowly but surely, I’m learning the ways of the elk, this creature I so very much want to eat. And the more I learn, the more I’m in awe.

That blissful feeling is belonging. When I’m hunting for my sustenance, I’m part of the system. And through the associated suffering, the bumps and bruises, the cold early mornings, the blows to my ego, the rain and snow and endless huffing up and down, I’m earning my meat.

Even if I don’t fill my freezer with game, I’m still earning my meat. Perhaps this year my freezer will be filled with salmon, lamb, chicken and buffalo – all acquired locally through well-known channels – rather than elk and elk and elk, day after day for a whole year. All the same, I feel that the act of eating meat is a sacred privilege, not to be taken lightly. By paying with my blood and sweat, I’m earning my right to eat whatever meat I eat.

The best part of returning from a successful unsuccessful hunt is that you aren’t all bloody, and you don’t have to deal with hanging and then butchering a dead animal. The day was unseasonably warm, and I piddled in the remains of my long-neglected garden, cleaning up the beds for winter, putting away hoses and dismantling hoop-houses. As I fed old broccoli plants to my chickens, I marveled at what a garden I would have if I put as much energy into it as I put into hunting. Next year, I surely will. But first, I’m going for my elk. •

In this week's issue...

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