I used to think that animals poofed into and puffed out of existence. For a moment they were in front of you, and then they were gone. Deer and other stealthy animals were of the heavens, they were celestial apparitions. The Celestial Wild Game Master would choose to grant you an encounter with one of his population of celestial deer, which would shortly thereafter cease to exist, and maybe tomorrow the Wild Game Master would grant you another ephemeral physical encounter with another of his celestial foal.
You don’t always kill an elk.
Twice I have. You’ve heard these two stories. It goes like this: You call the elk in, shaking in your boots as it replies and bee-lines towards you, stomping sticks and thrashing brush. You’ve set up perfectly. The wind is perfect. The bull elk is convinced there is a hot cow and he is coming to get her without hesitation or inhibition. The calling sequence was perfect – the vocalizations, the cadence – it clicked with exactly what the bull was hoping for and what his hormones were expecting this time of year, this week of September. The bull can’t see your location until he is well within bow range and clear of obstructing vegetation. He walks in, and you stop him when he is perfectly framed in the chosen opening. You adjusted your stance and posture, took the familiar grip, and then drew your bow at the perfect time – not too soon that you are shaking with the effort of holding the 70-pound draw weight, and not too late that the motion catches his eye. You pick your spot just behind the shoulder, aim with the correct pin for the yardage, level the bubble, pull with your back. The string releases and races forward, the arrow arcs towards the unsuspecting elk and TWACK! it sinks into his vitals, 30” of arrow disappearing past the fletching. A perfect shot. It’s a double-lung and he topples 50 yards later, running from the twang of the bow, dead without ever feeling or knowing a thing. Perfection.
Last post was casual nothings for days of driving, prep, backpacking.. then BLAM! BULL ELK ON THE GROUND!
That post was simply the entries straight out of my field journal – I didn’t necessarily intend for the tone of the tale to go from zero to climax in two sentences, but I’m actually glad it went that way. That’s how it felt to me, in real life. It was four days of sipping coffee in the morning, drifting about the alpine forest kingdom during the day, watching the sky turn and the temperature drop each night, revealing the stars and kicking off the visits by the forest’s nocturnal residents. An easygoing existence. Then, without prelude, the opportunity, the stated goal, the moment I had been seeking was upon me. A crashing noise from up on the ridge, 15 seconds later the 4x4 bull is broadside at 20 yards and thwack! my arrow disappears into his side. Holy cats. That just happened
These are my field notes from the start of the 2019 Hunt Odyssey. Later, I will provide other details and explanation. But for now, enjoy this tale, this chapter in the Saga of The Hunt, just as it occurred, with words coming straight from the field notebook, no re-sequencing of events, no dramatics needed.
Elk Quest 2018 provided a significant amount of meat. I’m talking 200+ pounds of 100% lean protein. This is deep-red (color almost like a tuna steak), grass-fed, pastured, organic meat. The sequence from releasing an arrow to handing my friend a butcher paper wrapped package of Elk Italian Sausage was extensive, and at times, exhausting. This is a most critical part of the Quest, for me personally and as part our 10,000-generation saga of The Hunter - here’s the story of The Meat.
I am going to Colorado. One of the important reasons that I am westbound, and the reason for this post, is Elk Quest 2019. A lot of you have read about and heard about wild adventure of Elk Quest 2018. The research, skill development, knowledge building leading up to September; the chill, sweat, sunburn, windburn of the field; the immortal starscape, the rhythm of the sun and moon, the changing of the seasons; and an intertwining of my life with the life and death of a Rocky Mountain bull elk, from first hearing him bugle to sticking him with an arrow at 25 yards to cutting up quarters and carrying it out of the mountains, butchering the meat in my kitchen, stocking the freezer and feeding myself, family and friends for an entire year. Many of you even partook in the nourishing bounty of this magnificent animal.
I’m not in China anymore. But part of me has become China, and I have many stories in the journal and in my head that I think could be entertaining, so I’m going to keep sharing. Most of this is going to be straight out of my journal, so it could jump a bit between present, future and past tense. It’s going to be “China Raw”, with stories or thoughts on train rides, imposition, tea, landscapes, economics, education, exercise, and more. And food. Because my-oh-my the food was mighty fine in China.
Yesterday I endured the Market of Doom.
The places I’ve been in China each have a definite sequence of daily activities. There is a time for rice porridge. After 10am, it’s no longer rice porridge time. There is a time for stir-fry. If it's before 5pm or after 8pm, forget about it. Kids go to school, walking hand in hand with parents or grandparents, from 8 to 9am, and they walk home from 3-5pm. Chinese tourist areas pick up around 11am and calm down around 5 or 6pm. Starbucks gets jamming around 2pm. Eggs are for the first half of the day. Hotpot is for the second half. The only 24/7 activity - noodle eating.
Morning scenes are, far and away, my favorite. I’ve been going for adventure walk/runs most mornings. I’ll run for a bit, walk when something catches my eye, walk if it’s crowded, run when the road is more open, go up stairs, down stairs, through alleys, into markets. The ‘little activities’ of the morning are endlessly fascinating. It’s usually routine stuff. The things people do every day – produce deliveries, shop openings, street sweeping, tea drinking, stretching, tai chi, standing in the noodle or dumpling or steam bun line, walking to school, biking to work. “Normal to you. Ordinary to you. Fascinating to me. Extraordinary to me.” Here are some assorted excerpts from my journal, on morning scenes:
Rome to Chongqing. A Mecca to a Dearth of Cafe Culture.
I’ve been in China for a week. Chongqing, Sichuan Province, China. To pronounce Chongqing, but on your best Chinese accent and say “Chong! Ching!”
I’m relatively sure I entered a plane in Rome, Italy, Planet Earth and flew the red-eye 6 timezones east and then landed back on Planet Earth. But I can’t say with certainty. A lot of things seem to be a good imitation of my previous experiences on Earth, but a lot of things are just a little off.
Here's a rust buster. I haven't written for a while, so here is a short one to break the rust off and introduce you to a new series that I will be writing and sharing.
Seemingly, instead of writing, I've been doing other things equally urgent and important (or at least they felt that way). And I haven't had the many hours per week of solitude, or of journaling, or of just being in the moment. But the last two weeks I’ve had more of all of that, and the next few months will have all of that in abundance. I'll be traveling, working, walking about with eyes wide open. And I’ll be writing. I am currently traveling east, planning to go all the way around. To see the people and places of our world. To travel a thin little line around the vast surface of our globe.
Optimism. The line is blurred between false confidence and truly believing that the next moment will be ‘the one’. In one moment I might say out loud, “There’s no dang elk here” and 5 minutes later I’ve convinced myself that the next bench is where they are or that my next bugle is the one that will elicit a response. It’s doublethink. I know that my belief that the next moment will be ‘the one’ is without statistical justification. Yet, regardless, I say out loud that I’m going to stick an elk within the hour. One part of my thinking knows that it’s impossible. Another part of me is convinced that this morning’s hunt is the one where it all happens. I don’t think you can be successful without some of this blind optimism. Optimism helps you stay out there for the requisite hours and days, setting up enough opportunities that, finally, you will have an encounter, you will find a piece of evidence to support your flickering optimism and confidence.
That’s where I was on day 5 of the Colorado backcountry archery elk hunt – pretty sure that “this is impossible, there’s no elk here”, yet equally sure that this next slope was going to have an elk and I was going to stick it with an arrow. Then it happened, and it is still a surreal experience. It feels like I’m making it up. But I’m not. Here’s the rest of the story:
The last month has been an incredible period of living. A month of firsts. A month of both success and day-after-day-after-day failure. A month of long periods of low-output hiking, looking, calling, listening, waiting, and short periods of brutal hiking efforts, animal encounters, rapid decisions and adrenaline ripping excitement.
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.