Flash in the Pan: The loser school of hunting
Eagle County CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The less successful a hunter you are, the more practice you get ” because failure means you have to go back out there again, and again, and practice.
If you bagged your beast early, then evidently you didn’t need the extra practice. Otherwise, consider yourself enrolled in the Loser School of Hunting.
Many factors must all come together perfectly in order for a hunt to be successful: you have to be where the animals are, find them, get a good shot off, then maybe find the animal again if it ran off before dying. If any one of these factors falls short, you get more practice.
Like a meditation practice, good hunting practice means clearing your mind of distracting thoughts that take you out of the moment. This is the hardest part for me.
Some factors, like the weather, or other hunters, are beyond your control – although they can and should be factored into your game plan.
Another factor, dumb luck, may seem to be out of your control, but it isn’t. It’s up to the hunter to capitalize upon luck, to hear the animal that just happens to be walking toward you, to find it in your scope, make a good shot when it pauses. If you end up missing, you might not feel so lucky.
When you can consistently create and capitalize on your luck, you have the hunting mojo.
What the hunting mojo is, exactly, is a slippery question, but you know it when you see it. And you know it when you don’t have it, or when you’ve lost it.
There are many reasons people hunt. For some, the joy is in the killing, which is kind of whack. For some, the joy is in the horns, which is also weird, but at least comprehensible. I’m no trophy hunter, but I can’t deny the beauty of a nice rack.
“You can’t eat the horns,” says my neighbor Wild Bill, and I agree. For me, the joy is in the meat, and in earning your animal protein.
Meat hunting isn’t necessarily cost-effective. When the hunting is tough and you factor in all the money you spend on gas, gear, bullets, Advil, and missed work, you’re paying retail prices per pound. The practice of hunting can be tougher than a $2 steak, but the steaks you earn can cost significantly more when all is factored in. I could have bought a pig and a cow from farmer friends instead, and kept a lot more time on my hands.
But then I’d miss out on the feeling and the flavor, all year long, of having a tasty meat stash who’s origins I can trace back to that exciting moment last autumn, and to that beautiful place where the animal came from.
There is great bliss in munching on home-dried peaches, pears and apricots from last summer, or jerky from last year’s animal, while sitting quietly in the enchanted places elk bring you to.
I’m humbled by the heaviness of eating the flesh of another being. By hunting, I feel I’m earning the right to eat meat ” even the meat I don’t kill myself. Paying pennies for flesh, it’s too easy to take meat for granted. I’m paying with my sweat, blood and tears.
Indeed, as the season wears on, the honeymoon ends, practice isn’t making perfect, time starts running out, and hunting becomes a chore I force myself to do. I might give up if it weren’t for the third party in the room: my ego.
Not everyone graduates from the Loser School of Hunting, and the thought of a year with an empty freezer injures the belly as well as the pride.
So there you go again, long before dawn, in the twilight of the season, your aching shoulders against the wall. Too much of the rest of your life is being neglected. You want the season to be over, but you’re planning another trip, getting your gear together, going back for more cold, more work, and another chance to fail.
Hunting has a way of cutting through the layered fibers of your being, like a river revealing the veins of the earth, and exposing what you’re made of.
But as my ego keeps getting handed to me, carved into a million pieces, I’m aware that somehow I get carved into a better version of myself by the Loser School of Hunting. The gun becomes lighter in my hands as the weeks go by. Civilization starts to seem easy, like gymnastics in zero gravity. The extra practice might not get me an animal every year, but if it doesn’t kill me, it will make me stronger, and more humble, and hopefully a better hunter. And if I don’t bring any meat home, at least I’ve earned my right to eat the meat I end up buying, trading for, am gifted, or otherwise acquire.
Ari LeVaux writes a weekly food column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.