Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elk Hunting

I went Elk hunting with my friends last weekend.  I had a tag for a cow Elk and I borrowed all the gear necessary for a successful hunt.

While I was eating Elk steak last summer at my friend's house he casually mentioned we would have a better chance at success this hunting season if he put me in for a tag.  I agreed and in November I received a notice from the Utah Division of Wildlife Management announcing that I had been successful in securing a tag to harvest a cow Elk for the 2010 season.  We had from December 1 to 15 to fulfill the permit.

I haven't been Elk hunting ever and the last time I went deer hunting was about 30 years ago.  I figured if nothing else I would get a good winter camp experience and we might see some wildlife.

I started telling people I had this permit and brothers in hunting started coming out of the woodwork. They offered to lend me all sorts of gear (rifle, stand, camo backpack, range finder, binocs, cow caller) and give me all sorts of tips. 

We went into the wilderness two weekends ago and had a nice winter camp.  One of my friends has a really nice camper so we didn't have to tent it.  We hiked all day and then enjoyed dinner and our beverages in a very warm camper along with movie night (Yes Man, Wild Hogs, The Shootist - John Wayne's last movie and Easy Rider).  We saw a lot of Elk and shot at them but I am rusty after so long and we didn't hit anything.

Last weekend we were determined not to come home empty handed.  We devised a plan to find the Elk herd and have one of us push them toward the others who would have walked up to the ridge in the foot deep snow so we would be in position.  As things often happen we were distracted by our intense planning when I looked out the window and saw a herd about 300 years to our left on the hillside. 

We took our positions and I placed the rifle on the hood of the truck.  The Elk moved off a little but then they stopped.  Majestically posing broadside to get a better listen to us.  I pointed the gun and slightly squeezed the trigger.  The animal I was aiming for stumbled, walked about 10 yards and fell.  It was over in an instant.  I used the range finder to lock the distance from the truck to the cow at 367 yards. 

The wounded cow then tried to get up.  She stumbled and rolled down the slope toward us.  She ended up in a tree about 100 yards from the truck.  All in all it was a lot easier than the stories I heard of having to butcher the animal on the mountain in the dark and then take the meat out by sled. 

Since I shot it, it was my duty to clean it.  I had done it a long time before when I shot a deer.  There is something primal about cleaning an animal you've shot.  You can identify all the organs.  You feel the animals body heat and you get "up close and personal" as my friend says when you disembowel the animal.

I left that experience with a renewed respect for animals and the sustenance they provide us.  In our regular life we are so removed from that connection to securing food that we don't even think about where the meat under plastic wrap in the super market came from. 

I fear we will loose some part of our humanity if we don't have this connection, as we do when we remove ourselves from interpersonal relationships with others or the land.  This is an integral part of who we are and we can't replace it with virtual images.

I didn't eat part of the liver or smear my face with the blood but I did see and smell things that I don't usually get a chance to experience.  I feel bad for the fear and pain the animal had to go through.  I will use the meat and be reverent about the animal that gave its life so I could have this experience.    

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