What Hunting Means To Me

By: Kalli Hawkins + Save to a List

Every sense is heightened, it's as though I am in touch with every single element around me

The colorful damp aspen leaves decorate the forest floor, softening each step.  The forest around me is dark and quiet as I move my way up the mountainside only led by the narrow beam of my headlamp. Each step is methodically placed, my body bending and moving around my surroundings. I reach my desired spot and settle in among the trees facing an open field. It's an indescribable feeling the moment right before the sun rises and everything that surrounds you has just woken up unbeknownst of your presence. The birds start to rustle in their nests for the first time, singing their morning songs. The squirrels start to forage around for their breakfast. There is a peacefulness found in that moment that dares to be found anywhere else. It's as though the forest is just waking up and I'm fortunate enough to be there to experience it. 

The morning slowly ticks by as I sit with eyes scanning the open field ahead of me. I enjoy watching the way the sun illuminates the frosted blades of grass and the way it touches the tips of the trees to give it new life. On this cold morning I can see my breath as I slowly turn my head from side to side, scanning the edges for any sign of movement. I'm constantly hoping that an elk will realize it is time to get up and stretch its legs to warm up from the cold night. I wiggle my toes inside my boots as I start to lose feeling, I wish I had put on another layer of socks. As the sun moves its way through the forest, my eyes begin to play tricks on me, I see a dark spot in the woods that I didn't notice previously, the combination of shadows and optimism can make a tree stump across the clearing look like an elk standing ever so still.  

I decide to leave my spot and stretch my cold feet. I begin again, methodically placing each footstep with eyes peeled looking for the smallest of movements. The sound of the cold snow crunches underneath my boot, I feel as though the sound echoes through the forest. I slow my pace and take slower smaller steps across the snow. I stumble upon tracks from an elk and my heart jumps. After following the tracks, I begin to learn so much about the animal, what it was thinking, what it was doing, did it hear something and get spooked, all can be told by the tracks shortening or widening in gait. I start to notice the life of the woods, the small imprint of a martin’s paw prints scurrying across the snow-covered log. The rabbit hopping along on its morning stroll. Followed every so quickly by a set of fox tracks. I can visualize the morning activities and as I strategically maneuver between trees and sticks strewn among the forest floor there is sign of a massive rub on a tree to my left. I stop to take a look and notice a handful of dark brown hairs stuck within the bark. I now know that this was a bull elk. My heart rate increases as I know I'm on the right path. I move ever so slowly, the mystery of where the elk is intensifies with each step. 

The sound of a single branch snaps off in the distance to my right and instantly freeze in place. I listen intently with my eyes peeled for any sign of movement among the barren forest. Ten minutes go by and another branch snaps now off to my left, I know the animal is moving and from the sound of the branch I can assume it is a larger animal, possibly an elk. In my head I keep saying "Come on, work your way down to the clearing". I kneel down behind a sage brush and patiently wait twenty minutes to see if the elk will emerge from the forest. My curiosity is sparked and I decide to head off up the mountainside to see if I can find tracks or if it has silently doubled back. After no luck, mid-day has arrived and I decide to head back to camp to refuel and warm up. I will head back out in the evening before the forest and animals settle down for the night. 

Hunting offers a manner of interacting with the woods in a way that most don't get to experience. It provides a level of true self-reliance that’s becoming lost. I feel proud of the work that I have put in, the skills and knowledge that I continue to acquire, and the unique way that I get to connect with nature.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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