Stephen came home from a BHA fundraiser, happy to tell me he had bid and won a guided elk hunt. I didn’t know right away that I would be going with him as the hunter. He told me later that the hunt was for a military veteran or a first time hunter; Stephen wanted me to go as a first time hunter.
I grew up around hunting, whitetail, goose, duck and pheasant, but had never participated myself. I’m not certain why. Perhaps because hunting was so available, I took it for granted, or because we always had a full freezer of beef and pork from our family farm. Another reason could be because whitetail season is in November…in North Dakota; it’s cold. I had shot gophers with a 22 and did some skeet shooting, that was about it. My brother was the hunter.
Stephen started bow hunting about six years ago, self-taught. He listened to hours of hunting podcasts, read many books, and studied his hunting areas on maps. He often commented how he would like to share hunting experiences with me. I heard him and lightly considered it, yet I was so involved with raising our young family and leading our chiropractic clinics that I hardly enjoyed any of my own hobbies in years. He’d shared with me the reasons he was enjoying hunting, and they all were good reasons, yet I remained detached. He talked about bringing home meat to fill the freezer for his family, the importance of public lands and the importance of hunting to maintain a healthy balance of various wildlife animals. Hearing about Stephen’s hunts, when he came home without harvesting an animal, I felt such disappointment for him. It seemed such an overwhelming feat to find an elk in the mountains. Then to have to get close enough to shoot and the pressure of the shot itself, it is a lot! Now Stephen had gotten this guided elk hunt and was excited to bring me as his guest.
The months leading up to the hunt, I didn’t think about it too much. Again, life and business kept me more than busy. As the hunt approached though, I became eager to spend time with Stephen, learning about what he had developed a passion for, that I didn’t quite understand. We drove to Hotchkiss, CO to meet our guide, Adam, from Timber to Table who had donated the hunt. We would be hunting on private land with the type of tag that allows hunting of animals damaging the property, elk. We were to do morning and evening hunts until I got a cow elk harvested.
The part of finding the elk didn’t concern me much now, we had a guide and knew the elk were there. Now I was feeling pressure from two things. First, a donated five day hunt, including the meat processing and education, I didn’t really see that I deserved the privilege to be the hunter. This was a huge donation of time and effort by Timber to Table and I was wondering what the motive was to donate so much. Second, Stephen had spent a lot of time preparing for the hunt and Adam would be spending a lot of time to get me in position to take a shot; I really didn’t want to miss the shot. I asked, and Adam shared his story. Some parts were like Stephen’s, including self-taught and passionate about providing healthy meat for his family. He loved the hunt as frustrating as he said it could be, never fully being able to have it all figured out. “Within 7 seconds everything can change.” That was true as I was about to experience! He said public lands were very important to everyone who enjoys outdoor activities, not only hunters, and his support of the BHA is one way he was showing support to the efforts of preserving public lands. I read through a BHA magazine that night, it happened to be an issue that summarized the recent political decisions being made on public lands and funding.
Well I’m really satisfied to report that the afternoon of the second day is when Adam got me in position to take a shot at my elk. Up to this point I had got to experience stalking and hunting in a blind. Adam had me shoot a few rounds at the range on the first day and aiming in different scenarios in the field. He helped me prepare for the time I would look through the scope at the elk I would shoot, including what scenarios an ethical and safe shot are taken. He shared about elk movement and instructed on staying down wind from the animal and using cover. I found the balance between patient waiting and aggressive stalking to be really interesting. Adam gave calm and clear instruction throughout the hunt. The scenario in which I got my elk was atypical in almost every regard, yet the end result was I harvested an elk! I felt relief, pride and gratitude. We took pictures then field dressed the elk. Growing up on a ranch, I probably have better awareness than the average American where our meat comes from; however, it feels special that I had a key role in obtaining the meat harvested from this elk (in contrast to buying it from an unknown source in a store). I appreciated learning about field dressing the elk. I am also getting the elk hide tanned to hang in our home, it is so beautiful!
A few days later, Anna from Timber to Table walked me through processing the meat from the elk I shot. I learned about the different cuts of meat, what part of the animal they come from, trimming and what is good for grinding. She is a patient and knowledgeable teacher, her knowledge coming from her experience as a butcher, processing hundreds of animals. We all spent the day processing the elk together and packaging it up to bring home. That evening Stephen, an excellent cook, prepared a fresh elk dish for us to share; that’s one of his favorite parts of hunting, sharing a meal with friends!
To sum it up, I can feel my hunting days are just beginning! My interest has been sparked and I’m considering what I want to hunt next. Honestly, I think I’ll stick to guided hunts with elk! But I’m now thinking about those “common to me” hunts that I never participated in, goose, duck, pheasant and deer. I’m looking forward to sharing my hunting story with friends and family over a meal of elk meat. Because of the dedication and passion of Timber to Table, BHA and Stephen toward public lands, I am beginning to learn about public lands and their importance to all of us, allowing us to pursue outdoor experiences, including hunting, now and for our future generations. Sounds like our daughter, Cikada, will be next to hunt elk with Stephen. Thank you Timber to Table and BHA for this unforgettable experience.
BHA would like to thank Mandi and Stephen for their support, Timber to Table for being incredible partners, and our Southeast Colorado Chapter Leaders who are doing great work to make experiences like this possible. Check out events in your area here. If you're in Southeast Colorado here's a taste of what we've got on tap in 2020.
- Campfire at Stargazer's: July 17th
- Dinner, Beer and a Movie with Q&A session Featuring South Cox of Stalker Stick Bows: March 21st at Oskar Blues Brews and Grill in C. Springs
- Beers Bands and Public Lands: August 8th , at Oskar Blues Brews and Grill in C. Springs
- Train to Hunt: Social May 16th (Volunteers needed for competition and social)