By Eugene C. Scott
I’ve been hunting elk off and on–mostly on–for the past thirty some years. For most good hunters, hunting is not about the kill (Good here refers to moral character not skill level, of which I have finite amounts: skill level not morals. And most hunters I know are good ones). Although no fancy restaurant can match the taste of an elk steak you brought off the mountain yourself and grilled up on the back yard barbecue.
Hunting is about getting close to the earth again, being rooted in creation and the Creator: wood, rock, and soil not steel, glass, and concrete. It’s about matching wits with the wild and losing most of the time. It’s about hours upon hours spent in the wide open, thinking, listening, learning.
Here are a couple of things I’ve learned while out in those wild places.
1. Elk are wild and unpredictable. And smart:
That’s why after chasing them through knee-deep snow, in subzero weather, up and down rugged mountains elk scale as if anthills, you’ll spot the biggest herd with the most magnificent bull you’ve ever seen gathered around a “No Hunting” sign on the ninth hole of the local golf course.
I’ve found this true of all good things we pursue, relationships, pleasure, success, meaning. We find them in the most unexpected places. This is true especially of God.
2. Indoor plumbing is the greatest invention of all time:
There is no possible way to make hanging your bare hiney over a log pleasant. If we still had to relieve ourselves in this way, automobiles, telephones, computers, iPods, and all manner of modern devices would not have been invented because we’d all be too constipated and grumpy to think.
3. Death is a part of life:
The wilderness is strewn with bones. Sometimes you even find the carcass. And there’s no government worker who steals in in the dark of night to scoop it up and hide it so your sensibilities are not offended. In the forest one can’t miss the fact that all life ends in death. Trees, flowers, elk, humans all die and melt back into the soil. It is also true that life springs from death. This is what anti-hunters and extreme animal rights activists seem to deny. Something gave its life for every item in Whole Foods, whether it be flora or fauna.
A week in the woods brings home the powerful truth we all needed Someone 2,000 years ago to give his life so that we could live today.
4. Hot running water is the second greatest invention of all time:
If you don’t believe me, wait for a miserable below zero winter day filled with driving sleet and go stand outside for 10 hours. Afterwards, when basking in your hot shower, Warren Buffet and all his wealth couldn’t coax you out.
5. Real life has no soundtrack:
Have you ever heard the sound a raven’s wings make when it flies above you on a cold, silent day? It’s a loud, squeaky whoosh. How about a cow elk mewing to her calf? Or your own heart’s driving thump because you just heard a twig snap that could well be an 700 pound elk sneaking up on you? Have you heard the beauty of nothing for several hours? If not, it may because Hollywood has conned you into believing silence is deadly and that in order to really feel you must have your favorite song playing in the background. This is a lie.
6. The best things in life are shared with your hunting partners, except that hot shower:
Wilderness solitude is a magnificent gift. But the first thing most hunters do is find someone with which to share what he or she has seen and heard in those lonely moments. Plus most tasks take two or more people to do well. Try hauling 400 pounds of elk meat off a mountain by yourself and you’ll know what I mean.
7. While camping every meal is gourmet and the best you’ve ever eaten, even beans.
8. Life is filled with C.S.Ds.:
Early in my hunting career, I was tracking a large buck. He was across a deep draw and had not scented me yet. I was looking for a clear shot. Then I came upon two hunters on a knoll. We whispered to one another and I told them I was tracking the buck. Suddenly the deer came out of the trees across the draw. I raised my rifle but one of the other hunters pushed me out of the way and shot the buck himself. While the jerk went to track and dress what should have been my deer, his hunting partner tried to apologize telling stories about how thoughtless this man was.
“He’s a Chicken Shit Deluxe,” the hunter drawled in his Texas accent. I wondered why he continued to hunt with such a skunk.
I’ve encountered what we now call “C.S.Ds.” in most walks of life. People who will push you down in order to raise themselves up. But the ironic thing is that they don’t seem to realize that they really have not elevated themselves but have made themselves king only among the other leavings on the bottom of the chicken coop.
9. Keep your sleeping bag zipped all the way up in the tent at night, especially after eating that gourmet pot of beans.
10. Hunters and hikers leave behind the strangest things:
One year, after a severe snowstorm, we found an abandoned camp high on top of a mountain. They left horses, saddles, tents, pots and pans, everything except their personal items. The outfitter had to come and get his horses and gear several days later. But the other items are still there rotting into the soil. Another time, while scrambling down the side of a mountain that was more cliff than anything–no trail, hanging on to tree trunks so as to not fall, I took a break and looked down by my trembling leg. There in the pine needles was an ink pen. Dirty white with “The Hilton Hotel” lettered on the side. We have found a half-track, hammocks, clothes, arrows, way too much trash, and a tent with a “North Face” sleeping bag and a large bottle of “Baby Oil” inside.
Makes me wonder what we are leaving behind in our day-to-day lives: people, memories, lessons, love, opportunities, whatever. Maybe we should be more careful.
Mostly we leave behind what God and life is trying to show us, whether we are elk hunters or Starbucks dwellers. These are our stories and we all have one–or more!
Eugene C. Scott got to elk hunt with his son, Brendan, who helped brainstorm this list, for the first time in four years. For both the hunting and brainstorming he is grateful.