We all enter the woods for a myriad of reasons. Necessity for sustenance, the thrill of an adventure, camaraderie with friends and family, or merely the solace of complete and utter lonesomeness. For some it is a combination of these, or possibly the drive is inexplicable, only existing through generations and generations of tradition. No matter your reasoning, we can define ourselves as the same, hunters. Hunters can be defined by their drive, their aptitude, their compassion. We are an interesting group that come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, yet we are defined so similarly with these traits and their relation to wild places.
I am a hunter. I am a man driven by my yearning for long nights under a starry sky, miles from human connection. I push on, to the next quakie-laced ridgeline in hopes of another painted sunrise and subsequent sunset. From the high unrelenting mountainscapes to the broken sandhills of the Midwest plains, this is my real home. The one place I feel at peace with my journey. The one place where I am confident that only I am in control of my defined success. The success not only defined by the final moments when the arrow releases its grip on the string or when we stand in remorse and simultaneous celebration over our prey. The success is a fulfillment of our adventure, the story of true hunters.
I decided to embark on the next chapter of my journey to fulfill this defined success with the most primitive of stick and string. Growing up, the weapon of choice was irrelevant and to an extent, it still is. I toted everything from my suction cupped arrows to an old Ruger .243, chasing creatures varying in size from the small ground squirrel to the elk. I read of the legends, Fred Bear, Glenn St. Charles, Howard Hill, and Chuck Adams traveling across this vast earth in search of their next exploit. In my seemingly vast backyard of Colorado, I would emulate the tundra scape of northern Alaska and the great plains of South Africa, rich with game to feed the inherent drive of a hunter. Their pages let me live vicariously as a young boy, smoldering that drive inside that now is at the root of all decisions and direction in my journey. Maturing, I have always looked ahead toward the next challenge. Making the decision to emulate our ancestors in the truest of form with a traditional bow has given me a new light. It has forced a deeper connection with the fewer remaining wild places and wild animals that I pursue. The connection has enhanced my drive and definition as a hunter. The primal feeling that glazes my eyes when I stare onto a rut crazed bull, saliva dripping down his leathery face, cultivates my compassion for these creatures. Yet it is the same primal feeling that drives me to feed my family with nature’s red meat. The longbow enhances these emotions and has provided the challenge that pushes me on to the next day when the hunt draws out past my time of comfort. Success is only further fulfilled with each passing day, regardless of the aching blistered feet and sore back.
Although I enjoy the camaraderie of the hunt, I prefer my journey in solitude. I start the day waking to a fresh cup of freeze-dried coffee and hot oatmeal stirred with peanut butter. Slowly this awakens my muscles and I regain motive control following a hard night’s sleep over rocky and rooted terrain. As I pull on boots, cold and damp from the previous day’s long miles, I reflect on my plan for the upcoming day and make the decision to push into new country, although likely not new to others, as I find signs of previous human passage. With all my supplies weighing down my shoulders, I pick up my bow and make my way upward. Cresting with early morning rays of sunlight I sound an alarm for the creatures in the valley below, a piercing bugle in hopes of a response from an equally ill-tempered bull. Met with the light sound of a migrating finch, I move onward and repeat. This process may seem arduous to some, but the suspense in each call has me push forward. With sun peaking in the sky, I sit and ponder the vast landscape, picking it a part in hopes to come to some grand conclusion of my next move. Crunching on the nuts and berries from my pack, I soak in each ray of sun licking the edges of the pines surrounding me. But soon the sun begins to fall from its high perch in the sky. It is time to push on toward the next draw, the next patch of timber in hopes to ambush an unsuspecting bull as he stretches from his bed.
Reaching over the canyon with my call, I am answered. I shift from a complacent hike to an urgent clip, needing to cover several hundred yards before the bull disappears into the abyss of the canyon, pushing his cows to their nightly feeding ground. Another call from my bugle locates the bull slightly further up the ridge than before. Time is wasting. I attempt to pick up my pace, putting less attention to my foot falls and more to the distant herd. I bugle again. Thinking I must have closed the distance by now, the response faded into the saddle above my position. It is now not only a race against his urgency but a race against the fading light. In the saddle, I hear hooves turning the rocks below. I am close. Close enough to flare my senses as the wind carries the musty scent of the rut up the hillside. If only my legs had carried me with more haste; I lost the race to the day. Now in darkness, their bugles ring through the pines as the first snowflakes begin to float from the grey clouds above.
It is in these moments when I appreciate the true purpose for my adventure. Another day has fallen to darkness without an arrow loosed, but not all is lost. Picking my way through blowdown timber and now blowing snow, I find my tent, greeted with the spark of a stove warming water for the night’s meal. The cracking of the water heating slowly in the early fall blizzard is drowned out by the sound of the wind pushing through the limbs of nearby trees. Those trees that have succumbed to the beetles, creak with the forceful gusts. A feeling of vulnerability is unavoidable as I slide into a down filled bag with only the light nylon sheet of a tarp shielding me from the nipping snow and wind. My eyes drift backward and vulnerability turns to comfort, for I am at home.