Tomorrow, Saturday August 25, the arrows start flying.
Well, the arrows have actually been flying for 6 months. Several thousand, in fact, out of my bow, getting zen with it, setting the feet, adjusting the grip, drawing back, anchoring, finding the peep, engaging the release, thousands of times over, to get ready for the one shot that matters.
Tomorrow is archery elk opening day in Colorado. I am ridiculously stoked. I have been for days. Weeks. Months.
Several times over the last 6-months I’ve mentioned flinging arrows and other activities associated with the Elk Quest. Here, finally, is a formal introduction to what the Elk Quest is, why I’m so stoked on it and where it is leading.
What is it:
I’m hunting America’s premier big game animal – the Rocky Mountain Elk. I’m using the stick and string, the bow and the arrow. It’s ‘over-the-counter’ hunting. Anyone can buy a tag – you go to the sporting goods store, hardware store or Walmart, buy your tag and off you go. 35% of Colorado is public, open to hunt land. I imagine Western Colorado is closer to 50% or more public and open to hunting. There are over 250,000 elk in CO, the highest population of any state. I’ll be backpack hunting – everything I need, for as many days as I'll be out, is on my back – tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, food, water filtration, bow. All the things needed are on my back, and hopefully nothing superfluous, because Rocky Mountain Elk hunting is hiking 5 or 10 or more miles per day, often without trail, always up, down or sidehill.
My Dad and I started hunting together when I was pretty little. We became semi-able amateurs together, mostly hunting whitetail deer with a rifle. I fell away from the pursuit a bit during competitive highschool sports, then the “buckle-down-and-study / time-to-party” years of college, and then the competitive triathlon of the last few years. But now I’m back. And obsessed.
The quest is to kill an elk on backcountry, mountainous Colorado public lands with a bow and arrow. Hike, camp, call, glass, stalk. Fling an arrow into the vitals of an elk. Cut it up, pack it out, eat it and feed my friends for an entire year. That’s the quest. It will probably be a never-ending adventure, a new challenge and urge every year to do it again.
-The mountains are calling. They call to everyone. I seem to feel their call more than most people. I want to be in the mountains, fully in them – on foot, camp on my back, miles from the road, stomping up and down faces and cliffs all day. It's the ultimate adventure.
-The challenge. Elk are survivors. They survive all day long, every day, all year. They are the ‘wildest’ animals I’ve ever been around. They spot you a half-mile away on a ridge, or the wind carries them a whiff of your scent, and they gone. Like, gone. Over the first ridgeline, then the next, then it’s 20-minutes later and they’re three basins and 2½ miles away. Elk will not tolerate your presence as a human. They are wild, wild animals. And they are incredible specimens, capable of running through the mountains with incomprehensible power and speed.
-The land is ours. America is largely unique. We have huge tracts of land, especially in the west, that is yours and mine and available for our enjoyment and recreation. It is well managed to balance multiple uses, and hunting is one of those uses.
-Animal populations are intelligently managed. There are dozens of “game units” in Colorado. Each has a separate “game management plan”. These written plans include population estimates, habitat usage, target animal populations to balance multi-use (human population, cattle grazing, farming, the wild animal population), threats to the animal population, trends in the animal population, hunter density, hunter success rates. In the US, if you can buy a permit and hunt an animal, you can be largely assured that scientific research has been done to determine that the animal's populations are healthy enough to support hunting. Biologists and land managers ensure that appropriate number of animals will be harvested without stressing their population. Game animals are often managed according to ‘sustainable yield’. Look it up. It’s one of the most simple and beautiful systems of living in balance with nature. All of this leads to specific hunting seasons, permissible hunting methods, target harvests.
-We are nature. We belong in the forest and mountains and grasslands. Time in the outdoors has largely been pushed down the list to something that is ‘nice to have’ and maybe can be enjoyed for a few trips per year or on some weekends. I feel that it should be higher on the list. The outdoors is required. It is home. We are not as separate from the land and the animals as it sometimes seems. It is critical, for me anyway, to get out there to calm and rejuvenate the soul and feel the connection that we have with our Earth.
-We, humans, are hunters. We are all descended from a long line of hunters. The best hunters were successful and were thus fed with protein and fat to keep them strong through the winter. Their children were fed as well, and they were then taught to hunt, and this repeated on and on through the millennia. We are part of that tradition, that long line of hunters. I've rarely felt more alive and right than while in the moment, hunting.
-Organic, free-range meat. Hundreds of pounds of beautiful meat. A hunter is required to pack out, then consume or feed his/her friends all of the meat from any game animal they harvest, per wanton waste law.
Where's this all leading:
I’m calling this Elk Quest 2018. But it is highly unlikely to be a one-time undertaking. The multi-faceted nature of any hunting, especially archery elk hunting, will keep me going for decades. And decades more of sharing the experience and teaching the pursuit. It’s been 6 months of preparation - books read, podcasts listened to, films watched, arrows flung. I learned to call, using a diaphragm to make elk noises. I learned elk behavior. I consumed everything I could about elk and elk hunting. The regulations, the animal behavior, the animal interactions, hiking into the backcountry, staying in the backcountry, shooting a bow, finding elk, calling elk, scouting areas, navigating backcountry, being fit and ready to quarter and pack out 400 pounds of bone and meat. Backpacking in the mountains is the ultimate adventure I’ve experienced, especially with the concrete goal of killing an elk to feed myself, family and friends. Scouting and other preparation has helped me feel as alive, right, free and in the moment as anything in my life. This will likely be a lifetime of adventure.
I am unreal stoked= to do the thing during the coming days, first solo, then with friends for hunts later in September. I’ll be in the moment, and I’ll be ‘gone thinking’ quite a bit during the next month. No doubt this will lead to some new blog posts and topics - the mountains, being human, hunting, friends and family. Thanks for reading. Pictures, stories, and hopefully, shared meals, to come.