Photo by Dan Davis trekkerphoto.com
On the hunt for Colorado's mighty elk
September 15, 2008 —
There is perhaps no longer-lasting tradition than the tradition of the hunt. It is how our ancestors survived for millennia, long before the modern age of packaged meat and drive-through burgers, and it is a family tradition which still thrives in my family. Even as I write this I am preparing for two weeks of Elk Hunting near Vail.
In Vail’s early days everybody hunted. Rifles and shotguns were fairly common sights on Bridge Street, and tales of the hunt would fill Donovan’s Copper bar in the evenings.
Or so I’ve heard. By the time I got involved in elk hunting I was already 21, and Vail had become much like the rest of the modern world – a place where a mention of hunting is more likely to draw a wide-eyed look of fear, or repulsion, as it is a look of admiration or excitement.
I don’t care what other people think of my hunting, but I will say this: if you don’t hunt, if you’ve never loosed an arrow or pulled the trigger in an effort to bring a wild animal down; or if you’ve never worked a day on a cattle ranch, and seen how a cow becomes a hamburger, then I recommend you become a vegetarian.
It’s not a pretty process. Hunting can be, unfortunately, a very nasty business. Yet that is exactly why I value it. Hunting helps me avoid the illusion that things in this world come easy, or free. When I plug in my iPhone I know it’s powered by coal (see related story here), and when I pick up a burger I know it came from someplace similar to my father-in-law’s cattle operation. I know, when I pull that elk tenderloin out of the freezer, which I butchered myself, exactly where it came from and what it took to bring that meal to my family’s table.
Walking into the supermarket and grabbing a cellophane package of perfectly-trimmed steak is far too simple, far too easy, and it hides a fairly gruesome truth about life on this planet: in order to put energy into your body, it’s gotta come from somewhere else.
If you’re not prepared to understand this on a hand-on level, then you should go vegetarian. I say this because I believe very strongly that people should fully understand the consequences of their actions. Eating a radish is a very, very different thing than eating a hamburger – yet to the modern American it may not seem very different at all.
As I head up on this hunt, I’ll step away from RealVail, from the “grid,” from the cell phone and the computer for almost every day of the next 14 days. I’ll be surrounded by peace and quiet – a strange feeling at first – and I’ll get a chance to look deep into the inner workings of the Holy Cross Wilderness area, a place as primitive as almost anywhere on Earth. I’ll peel back the layers of modern convenience, and gain insight into the most fundamental laws of life on this planet.
When I do so, I find there is a fine balance to life: to eat you must take, but you must also give back.
Human beings do a lot of taking in this world – a lot of consuming. But what are we giving back? It’s a question I don’t know the answer to, but I’ll have plenty of time to consider it over the next few days, and I hope to return with an answer – and an elk – later this week.
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