Friday, November 9, 2012

Images of hunting season

One night last weekend I was driving home after an exhausting day hunting with no game to show for my efforts when a thought came to me. Isn't it strange that the only images of hunting that we share and celebrate are ones that show a happy hunter posing with a harvested animal? While this is of course a pinnacle moment, it tells nothing of the work and dedication it took to get to that point, or the work that remains to be done after the shot. This is only one moment in a wide range of images that actually make a hunting season, and could be part of why non-hunters don't understand why we hunters feel so strongly about hunting.
If you were to actually show images of my typical hunting season, there would be many many pictures with no game at all. Pictures of cold dark mornings, long silent walks, trees bending in whistling winds and red numb fingers. Photos showing entire days with no words spoken, where no animals are seen and long drives home with nothing to show for the effort.

Whitney preps garden produce and venison for hunting camp stew.
But there would be more than that. There would be pictures of friends around a campfire, corn bread from a dutch oven, and smoke curling from the chimney above a wall tent. There would be pictures of golden larch needles, white snow flakes, and red huckleberry leaves. There would be pictures of vistas and mountains, streams and rivers. Elk tracks in the snow, fresh droppings and a recent bedding spot. Wolf tracks the size of desert plates, and lion tracks on top of your own tracks made only hours before.
But there has to be more than pictures, you have to convey the sensations too. Not only of the frozen fingers and tired legs, but of the sudden spike in the heart rate when you catch a glimpse of something. The disappointment that comes after a long silent walk when out of nowhere a doe stands up and just like that, effectively warns the entire mountain side of your coming. Of your heart pounding in your ears when a buck spots you and gives you that one second stare before bounding away. The wet sheep smell of your wool pants after hiking all day. The sensation of being soaked in sweat from dragging an animal out even when it's so cold the water in your backpack has frozen. And of finally, finally having made it back to the truck well after dark with the narrow beam of your headlamp guiding the way after trying not to think about all the hungry carnivores that have been watching and smelling you go by.
I guess the thing is that there is way too much about a hunting season to try and share all of it, so we just boil down to the one moment of success. The one moment that proves it was all worthwhile. But success without effort is fleeting. For me the hunts that were the hardest are the stories best recalled, and somehow the meat tastes a little better when there is a good story to go with it.
So for any non-hunters that may be reading this, and especially ones that don't appreciate seeing pictures of dead animals and grinning hunters, just remember your only seeing part of the picture.



Anne @ Cup of Caffeine said...

Very nicely written! You painted a picture and I can relate to this story.
Rifle season just opened this morning here. I saw a lot of cars parked off the road and drivers with their hunter safety orange hats on while I was driving to work.

April .. I [Heart] My Life said...

Totally agree with Anne & Amy: Very well written, Kyle! Love the images you share -- the juxtaposition of the solitary hunter & the community you've created with hunting, too. It gives me a better idea of what goes on out there in the woods. Thank you for that!