The one time of the year that I look forward to the most is the month of September. And given the high level of anticipation and long wait time, I tend to have equally high expectations. But how often do we let the anxieties of our everyday life ruin something that’s pure, muddying our experiences afield? I’d wager to say that we let ourselves be robbed of our joy more often than we realize. Modern society lends to it. The current culture appears to be rigged toward distraction, and the devaluation of what’s pure and “basic”. So really, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. The trick is being aware and actively combatting these modern tendencies that suck the enjoyment out of what we love most. Looking back on the past four or five years’ worth of hunting elk in September, I see where my joy has greatly diminished. Somehow the little things that once thrilled me, and the nuances that made the hunt have become elusive.

Channeling Papa Bear and Glenn St. Charles.

For the first time in years, I had every reason to be wholly absorbed and enraptured by the quickly approaching month of September: my schedule was wide open, and options were endless. But a series of events that transpired during the summer, compounded with health issues, had me distracted and feeling low. At the start of the season, I was doing good to just be out there; lacking physical stamina bordering on the cliché “sick kitten”. But as luck would have it, after a very exciting encounter on the second day, my season for all intents and purposes should have ended with a punched tag, a full freezer and a taxidermy bill. But I just couldn’t keep it together enough to make it happen. I’ve been beating myself up ever since.

The majority of the season I was doing good just to get out and hunt for a half day at a time. I was slowly feeling better each day…but we’re talking incrementally slow. But still, progress. I kept focusing on the area of the mountain where I had the “Freight Train Bull” encounter (see: The Bowhiking Chronicles #090920 “Full of Rust and the Freight Train Bull”). I noticed that every finger ridge held a major game trail that appeared to be used regularly. I found a little cove along one of these trails, tucked away in a pocket of deep timber on a bench, midway up the mountain. The cove held no less than ten elk beds that appeared to be used regularly. The barnyard smell was intoxicating. It was a Southwest facing slope that bucked the usual trend of the thermals, always seeming to have the wind traveling downslope regardless of the time of day. I found the perfect spot along one side of the natural amphitheater where I could make a stand, within easy bow shot of the major trail that bisected the elk boudoir. There were a few possible locations to hang a treestand, which I seriously contemplated.

Due to the lack of energy, I decided to forgo packing in my climbing treestand, and chose to just sit in ambush. I alternated between just sitting quietly in wait, and doing a series of “needy” cow, or lost calf calling sequences. After no less than five days of this strategy and absolutely NOTHING to show for it, I grew despondent. Hopeful that the elk had a pattern that could be cracked, and that they would be coming back soon, I finally hung a game camera along the trail and took a few days to check other nearby areas. Everywhere I went I seemed to find plenty of elk sign…but never any elk! And with the elk keeping quiet and refusing to bugle, it felt more and more like an exercise in frustration and disappointment. To make things worse, when I came back to check the game camera, there were only a few photos of whitetail deer, a few photos of myself, and exactly zero photos of elk! I knew that I just needed to keep looking elsewhere, but was seriously lacking in optimism and drive. And I was also running out of time!

Beautiful moonrise. Luke kicked himself for not having a zoom camera lens with him, and he only had a short time to capture the moment.

One of the days my wife texted me and asked how my day was going. I just replied with an emoji; the one with the drooping sad face. She quickly set me straight and reminded me that I was “living the dream”, and that I had no reason to not be enjoying myself. This led to some deep introspection over the next few days, and suddenly I started noticing little things that had always brought a smile to my face, but lately had remained hidden: smells, shapes, textures. Every time you step outside you are greeted by countless little gifts from our creator that bring us great joy and satisfaction. You just have to meet things with an open heart and be paying attention. One day I noticed a very pleasant and sweet smell that instantly reminded me of the bubble gum that came in the packs of Topps baseball cards and Garbage Pail Kids* that I collected while in elementary school. This triggered a plethora of happy memories and before long I caught myself with a face splitting grin. One evening while making the long and winding drive around a mountaintop, headed for home, a break in the trees unveiled a giant orange moon that was just making its way out of a notch in a far away ridgeline. It was the type of scene that brought nothing but awe and wonderment into your heart. Something that made you feel like you were privileged to be witness to something very special, that only was revealed to those who are worthy of it.

I chose to hunt the last day of the season with two people who are very important to me, and who I view as family. They had been hunting on a mountain that we’ve always held as a special place, even though it was quickly being diminished by rapid logging activity. Looking at it as a possible “last hurrah”, I felt a satisfying nostalgia as I prepared my gear for the morning. Three-thirty am barged its way into my slumber in the form of an abrupt alarm clock. But all weariness faded away as I stepped out of my front door and looked heavenward. I was greeted by crisp air, and a crystal-clear sky full of twinkling stars, with Orion aiming his bow high above me. This stirred that old fire that simmers deep down inside all who heed our ancestral call. It was another truly revitalizing moment.

Yes, sometimes you just have to “soak it all in”, as they say, remembering the pure and basic pleasures that a loving creator bestows so openly. The things that are often overshadowed by the monstrosity that is “modern life” are the sources that evade and escape all who waste time on pursuits frivolous and false. These are the things that are truly responsible for the joy we find while engaging in the venture labeled as “bowhunting”. Could it be that the bow is only the tool we use, while the heart is what truly drives the hunt? I guess that’s up to each of us to answer…likely with a bow in our hand, and our boots on a trail.

*Garbage Pail Kids: If you were born before 1975, or after 1990, you’ll have to use your Googles.