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    Stories — hunt to eat

    The 5 Stages

    The 5 Stages

    By Ambassador Cindy Stites
    12 minute read

    The Five Stages of a Hunter was a concept born in the mid-1980's by a couple of professors doing research at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. More than 1,000 Wisconsin hunters were contacted and interviewed by Robert Jackson and Robert Norton about their hunting expectations, habits and overall experiences in the field. This information was compiled and put out as a report listing what they believed to be the "Five Stages" that hunters go through, during the course of their hunting lives, why the transitions happen, and what the general feeling is of each stage.

    There is no evidence to show that the 1,000 hunters interviewed were solely male, or solely lifelong hunters, but I am going to speak as a woman, who started hunting later in life, thirty-six years of age, to be exact. It certainly may look different for everyone, and I'm sure everyone spends a different amount of time, if any, in each of these stages. This is just how things have played out for me.


    Shooter Stage

    This first stage represents the time that hunter is just getting started, and the more they can fire their firearm, the happier they are. It appears hitting the intended target isn't always the most exciting part of this stage, but more like the number of shot opportunities, or the numbers of shells on the ground at the end of the day, is what spells success for the hunter.

    For me, I didn't start shooting a gun at all, until about three weeks before I went into the woods to hunt. Some lifelong hunters might have spent their childhood anxiously awaiting the legal age to hunt, by toting their BB guns, then maybe a .22 as they got a little older, shooting targets and all kinds of things their parents probably wouldn't approve of, and going through BBs and .22 ammo like crazy.

    I wasn't that kid. The first time I shot at a target, or anything actually, with a long gun, I was an adult and I was holding it in the wrong hand. My significant other, Chance, questioned why I was shooting right handed with my right eye closed. After switching to my left hand, things started to work out a little better for me.

    I wasn't one who was anxious to get out there and blow through a ton of ammo. I liked to shoot, but once my gun was sighted in and I was pretty comfortable with how to load it, hold it, aim it and finally fire it, I felt I didn't want to shoot it again until I had a 'sure thing" shot at an animal, directly in front of me. I never fired at anything in the woods unless I felt I would have a good, quick, clean kill on the animal. It seems from the report that was circulated back in the mid-80's and still today, that differs from the majority of people who are shooting up the woods to get that first animal in the bag. While hunting with someone who is in the Shooter Stage, in the true sense of how it was described by the professors from Wisconsin, heed great caution, as a lot of gun fire in the woods can lead to safety concerns. I am a strong believer that taking a Hunter Education course prior to hunting for the first time would greatly reduce some of those safety concerns, and produce more responsible hunters right out of the gate.

    Limiting Out Stage

    This stage as described originally, states that while the hunter still likes to shoot a lot, there is a greater interest in filling every tag that they can get their hands on and doing so quickly. This, unfortunately, can lead to taking poor shots, and potentially injuring an animal, which is neither ethical nor responsible.

    I think I went through this stage probably during my second and third seasons deer hunting. I had a rough first season, even though I did kill my first deer that year, I still felt like I had to prove to Chance that I could not only be a hunter, but I could be a successful hunter, who could fill all three tags, regardless of the size or age of the deer I was bagging. I knew I could shoot two does and one buck, with my Indiana Deer Bundle License, and that's what I was going to do. By my third season I had bought my own rifle, a Marlin lever action .44 mag, just like the one I had borrowed from Chance the two previous Novembers. When I got the gun, I didn't have the money to buy a scope. Chance made a deal with me, in that if I could kill a deer by shooting open sights, he would buy me a scope for Christmas that year.

    The opportunity presented itself one evening while we were both out in the woods, sitting on opposite ends of the property. Three deer walked in, straightaway, and I shot one at 15 yards, which fell in its tracks. As soon as one of the other two circled back, I reached around my tree and shot it as well. This happened in a matter of seconds. I had just doubled up, and I was so proud I just about couldn't stand myself. I had earned my scope, too.

    Looking back on that situation now, I feel awful. I would have never taken that shot, on either deer today, with the experience and hunting "maturity" I have gained since then. It was a doe with two of her current year's fawns. I shot her and her button buck offspring. All I was thinking about was filling my tags, no matter the size of the deer, and earning that scope, to prove I was a capable hunter to my boyfriend.

    I am certainly not proud of that, but experiences like those, that we look back on with some amount of embarrassment today, teach us valuable lessons that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. Thankfully this stage didn't last long for me, and truth be told, after taking the life of an animal, or multiple animals as it pertains to this stage, I think people move on to the next stage fairly quickly. Or at least the people with the best intentions do.

    Trophy Stage

    Now people are getting selective, and their success is determined by what kind of trophy their hunting season produces. For deer hunters, this means they live and die by their trail camera pictures, they work tirelessly on food plots and chasing after one particular deer for the life of that animal. They won't shoot anything small and they manage their hunting property with strict rules for family and friends that might hunt with them. Some hunters will take trips across the country or even abroad seeking out the biggest, most unique game animal they can get their hands on. That, and only that, is what makes them feel successful.

    I always felt fortunate to fill my tags, but the more I started paying attention to other hunters via social media and other outlets, I felt like I needed to produce some kind of trophy to further prove that I could hunt with the best of them.

    Being a woman, there didn't seem to be very high expectations that I could produce the bigger animals like my male counterparts. Chance never really cared, he is a meat hunter and that's primarily it, but at the time, he had his very first buck above the fireplace, so I think he, at times, is drawn into the realm of searching for that big buck as well. Nonetheless, I put out trail cameras, I checked them religiously, I put feed out in the spring to see what made it through the winter, I scoffed at the little bucks and drooled over the bigger ones. There was a buck that I literally lusted after in 2013, which my neighbor ended up shooting, but ever since I got that deer on camera, I started thinking about trophy bucks.

    Opening weekend of 2015, I was sitting on a field edge, in a double ladder stand on Chance's dad's property, hunting alone. Chance and his buddy were about six miles away hunting another farm. I was hearing shots coming from all over the countryside, which is pretty typical for Hendricks County on opening weekend. It's ridiculous, but I was feeling angry that I hadn't seen anything yet, at the crack of 8 am on opening day. So ridiculous, looking back.

    But suddenly, out of nowhere a huge doe came running in, her breath visible in the cold morning air. She was being chased, but I didn't know where the buck was. I had already sat for almost forty hours with a bow in my hand, prior to gun season opening, she was the biggest doe I had ever had the opportunity to shoot, and I was impatient. I shot her, she ran and dropped to the ground about sixty yards away in the woods. Shortly after, a buck ran through the woods, right to where that doe fell. I couldn't see him clearly, I caught glimpses of antler and then brown fur, and not much else. After coaxing him to my stand with multiple snort wheeze calls, he appeared to be a huge bodied, ten-point buck that was bigger than anything I had ever seen through my scope. My trophy buck was standing right in front of me, it was happening and I was over the moon. I took the shot at approximately 15 yards and it was over.

    I had a trophy animal that was going to solidify my place as a member of the hunting community. I was going to post all over social media, send a text to every person I knew, call my dad, send photos to my boss, and basically not let anyone get through that day without seeing my big trophy buck. Success was mine! Once again, I have learned so much, and what I value about deer hunting and what I consider a "trophy,” is far different now then just two short years ago. And that leads us to the next stage.


    Method Stage

    Generally, by now, hunting is no longer something to go out and do for fun from time to time, it has developed into a passion and one of the most important things in the hunter's life. They have accumulated the newest gear, the best technology, and are trying to educate themselves daily, on how best to outsmart the animal. They care more about how the animal is taken, rather than how many tags they can fill during the season. The challenge is in the hunt. They spend countless hours looking for the best place to put a tree-stand, or a blind. They watch for, and study the patterns of the animals, and think of how best to connect with the animal they have picked out. Some will even make the hunt harder, intentionally, by switching from a rifle to a muzzle-loader, or from a compound bow to a recurve. It's all about the method in which the animal is taken.

    After my first season hunting, I thought maybe I would like to hunt with a bow. Chance encouraged me to buy something cheap, in case I didn't like it or couldn't figure it out. He is right handed, while I am a lefty, so he didn't feel he would be much help to me during the learning process. I wondered how much harder it would make deer hunting for me, or if I could even do it at all. It was hard then and five years later it is still hard. But like the I stated above, it gives me more of a challenge and that is intriguing to me. Another thing that has changed for me while in this stage, is that have added turkey hunting to me repertoire. You want to talk about something difficult to teach yourself (Chance is not a turkey guy). But again, the challenge was the most intriguing part. I was fortunate enough to take my first turkey this year, but that was only after failing miserably for the three years prior.

    I think for me, in this stage of being a hunter, it isn't at all about just filling the tags anymore, it's about technique and outsmarting the animal, on their playing field, up close and personal. My most recent mule deer hunt in Wyoming is a testament to that. I had the option of shooting a buck at just over 300 yards, but instead decided to stalk the animal by way of belly-crawling, butt-scooting and hiding in the tall grasses of a walk-in property, to close in on the animal for a much closer shot, by almost 100 yards. Notching my tag was the goal, but I felt the success came from the hunt itself, not solely the end result.

    Sports(wo)man Stage

    The final stage of being a hunter, according to this report, is one of basically just chilling out. It is said to come after many years in the field. The entire experience of hunting is valued over the filling of tags or seeking out trophy animals. There is a feeling of appreciation for the surroundings and watching nature do its thing. Taking new hunters out or hunting with old friends is the highlight of the experience, and there is more joy watching others be successful, than the success of oneself.

    I have only been hunting for what is now seven seasons, but I truly feel I have landed in between the last two stages. Maybe that is because I started much later in life, I don't really know. I have found myself hunting on the ground, without a blind in order to challenge myself further and become closer to the animals I hunt. I have passed on upwards of twelve deer this season due to them being does with fawns, or solely the fawns of the year, on their own, during the rutting season.

    I have videoed or captured more pictures of deer this year than I have even thought about shooting. My best days hunting this year in Indiana were days that I never had a shot on an animal.

    One example, is the last day of Indiana turkey season while hunting on a friend's farm. I heard the tom gobbling, off in the woods, just out of sight. He came close a few times, but never came out of the woods. He soon moved deeper into the woods and I got up to see if I could lay eyes on him. I knew this was probably not a good tactic, but I wanted to SEE him, with my eyes instead of just hearing him with my ears. I crept into the wood's edge and hid behind a log. There he was, across a deep ravine, about 65 yards away, courting a hen. The sunlight was highlighting what seemed like only this one animal, of all the animals in the woods that day, like he was the star on center stage. I watched him strut, I watched him let out gobble after gobble and all I could do was sit there, staring in wonderment. I teared up just admiring the beauty of what was happening in front of me, for those eight or ten minutes of that one day, in May.

    The second instance happened just a few weeks ago. I went for an all-day sit at a property I have permission to hunt in Parke County, which is about forty minutes from my house. I found a brush-pile and wedged myself inside of it, on the side of a hill, just 15 yards off of a well-worn trail. Over the course of ten hours, I watched multiple deer, including does, fawns and bucks interact with each other. I patiently watched a really nice buck sleep for three hours, after he realized the doe he was following had no interest in him. I witnessed a fearless doe approach a mature buck and stand side by side with him, only to have her fawn approach and stand by her side, while she groomed him. I laughed when a small buck came into the picture later in the afternoon like a big stud, not knowing there was a much larger buck bedded near another doe, nearby. The game of chase that ensued after the larger buck stood up was comical, but also very educational. I had a doe and fawn walk within 7 yards of where I was sitting, just on the other side of my brush-pile.

    Just as I thought my day was over three turkeys came waddling down the hill, one almost tumbling head over feet down the steep grade. All three jakes walked past me, headed off to roost I assumed, not noticing that I sat just 15 yards from their path, videoing them all the way. I never drew my bow, not did I have anything come close enough for me to do so, but it was the best day I have ever had in the deer woods. So far.

    These stages are different for everyone. The time spent in each one is different as well, as we are all finding our way as hunters, at different paces. There is no right stage to be in and there is nothing wrong with skipping a stage altogether.

    But in my heart of hearts, I am thankful that I have found myself settling into the latter stages, as I feel like it makes my love affair with hunting so much more satisfying, and I feel as though I am doing right by the animals whom I spend so much time with in the woods each fall and spring. I am happier for other people's successes than I am for my own. I want to give more than I take, I want to learn all I can about conservation and what it means to be a steward and advocate for these animals. I have a strong desire to bring new hunters into the fold, and help them have the opportunity to experience all I have in the out of doors, in hopes that they too, will navigate through these stages and all of the learning experiences that come with them.

    My wish is that you ALL find your way along this journey, but I believe you will come to realize, that while all of these stages are important, the final stage is where you find the most joy.

    Fun and Games, Until Elk Get Hurt

    Fun and Games, Until Elk Get Hurt

    Q&A with Luke Wiedel

    Colorado elk populations are in crisis.

    We tend to take our public lands and wildlife for granted—it's human nature—but every so often nature gives us a wake-up call,” said Luke Wiedel, a Colorado resident and life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

    That wake-up call is the decline of elk in areas of Colorado. We sat down with Luke to get the details on what exactly is going on and what needs to be done.


    What’s the main issue here?

    Elk populations are experiencing some troubling declines in areas throughout Colorado. As wildlife managers struggle to find out why, one likely culprit is the rapidly growing trend of outdoor recreation, such as trails.

    Meanwhile, trails are being constructed and proposed on an unprecedented scale throughout Colorado’s critical elk habitat, including calving grounds and migration routes. In Steamboat Springs, the City’s accommodations tax, which is frequently called the 2A tax after the 2013 ballot initiative, has allowed for the recent construction of a large trails project in the Buffalo Pass area and the recent proposal of the Mad-Rabbit Trails Project—a project which proposes the carving up of many square miles of roadless expanse in the Routt National Forest.

    As lovers of the outdoors, we—hunters, anglers, bikers, hikers, walkers, campers and riders—need to choose wisely where we recreate, and in turn, where we build trails, keeping in mind that our recreation has impacts on elk and other wildlife survival.


    Which pieces of information are important for the public to know?

    • Colorado has the largest elk population of any state. With roughly 230,000 elk, Colorado is home to about one-fourth of the elk on the planet.

    • Animals, particularly elk, deer, and antelope, are starving to make it through winter (even less severe winters) and calving and lactation. In their summer feeding ranges, every calorie counts—and the cumulative impact of all these little disturbances is where we start to see permanent and lasting effects. Furthermore, the animals are not simply displaced to another area by these effects. Rather, that particular sub-population experiences difficulty with recruitment, and, eventually, simply stops recruiting young into the herd at a healthy enough pace.

    • While we must be clear that all types of recreation can have adverse effects on elk and other wildlife, mounting biking does seem to have the potential to more severely impact an area.

    • Wildlife managers suspect human recreation is a factor in the 50% decline in elk herds over the last 15 years in Eagle County.

    • Wildlife survives by reducing energy demands, i.e. they spend large periods of time just lying down (some studies say up to 90%). This point is often overlooked especially when people say the critter just got up and walked away, it wasn't bothered by me being there. Causing an animal to get up or to reduce feeding time is an impact, and when this happens several times a day, it can be a significant impact. (Source: Bill Andree, retired CPW wildlife manager).

    • Wildlife is in a fight for survival and is not looking for exercise, an adventure or a thrill. They are looking to sustain themselves and recruit young into the population. We as humans have the choice of where and when we recreate, and we must choose wisely so that wildlife can survive. (Source: Bill Andree, retired CPW wildlife manager).


    Proposed Mad Rabbit Trail - Source: Rocky Mountain Wild


    Source: Rocky Mountain Wild


    Source: Rocky Mountain Wild

    How does this affect individuals living outside of Colorado?

    The issue of human disturbance and the effect it has on elk recruitment is bigger than Steamboat Springs, CO. This is an issue which has implications for all western communities with growing demands for outdoor recreation. This is happening in many places across the West.

    The Mad Rabbit Trails Projects are proposed on Federal National Forest land. This is public land--land that belongs to all Americans. All citizens nationwide have a right to be concerned about wildlife habitat loss and fragmentation as it relates to the increasing demand for outdoor recreation. Moving forward, the collaboration between outdoor recreational user groups on a national level is crucial if our wild places, and the migratory big game that rely on them, are to thrive.


    What is the reason these trails are being built? What do you think the opposing view is?

    The City of Steamboat Springs, CO adopted an accommodations tax (2A) in 2013 to fund trails projects and improvements. At the time, the public, as well as agencies tasked with managing our National Forests and wildlife, were hopeful that the 2A accommodations tax would provide much needed funding to expand recreational opportunities close to town.

    Now, with the completion of the Buffalo Pass Trails Project just last year, the funding provided by 2A already seeks to develop more large scale trails projects in the area, leaving few wild, undeveloped tracts on the area’s public lands.

    From my own perspective, the opposing view believes that we must continue to grow our recreational opportunities on our public lands to remain competitive in the tourism industry—it will continue to serve as an economic driver to the local economy. Because some of the effects on our elk and other wildlife are “invisible,” I don’t believe recreators realize the effects their presence is having on wildlife and their habitat.


    What is your main request for the time being? What do you want the Forest Service and Steamboat Springs to do about this issue? 

    Soon, we expect that the Forest Service will begin a formal comment period and public input will be important during that time as well. However, these decision makers need to hear from us now.

    It’s prudent that the public, Steamboat Springs, USFS, and CPW wildlife biologists and managers understand what could happen when we carve up some of our last remaining wild, road-less areas on public lands. Once these trails are built, we have changed the scene for elk and other wildlife forever.

    Furthermore, it should be understood that any estimated costs of building trails projects must also include the cost of enforcing any future trails closures during calving seasons, the cost of enforcing rules and regulations, and any road maintenance costs incurred by the County caused by increased use.


    What can people do about this?

    Considering what’s happening in Eagle County, and in the name of conservation, please write a letter or email to voice your concerns.

    Tell the Forest Service, CO Parks & Wildlife, Steamboat Springs City Council, and the Routt County Commissioners that we are opposed to further trail development in our national forests and public lands without understanding ALL the cumulative impacts such development has on wildlife, habitat, and future hunting opportunities. The data is clear—human disturbance and outdoor recreation of all types has significant impacts on elk and other wildlife.


    Email your letter of support for wildlife to each of the following influential decision makers:

    tcorrigan@co.routt.co.us, dmonger@co.routt.co.us, chermacinski@co.routt.co.us, kfoster@fs.fed.us, wdelliquadri@steamboatsprings.net, gsuiter@steamboatsprings.net, kris.middledorf@state.co.us, tumphries@fs.fed.uscitycouncil@steamboatsprings.net, beth@bethmelton.org


    Bullet points might include:

    • We value our wildlife and undisturbed habitat over new trails.

    • The elk population surrounding Steamboat in GMU 14 and 214 is beginning to show signs of decline, potentially because of the Buffalo Pass trail network and other local recreational use.

    • We should proceed with extreme caution while planning new trails, particularly in light of the drastic declines in Eagle County elk herds, which are very likely a result of trail construction and use.

    • This is a statewide crisis and we should call upon and encourage wildlife biologists and managers to continue gathering data prior to any further trail construction, with the goal of understanding the cumulative effect that these projects could have on wildlife populations.


    Anything else you would like to add?

    On a personal note, I have hunted with my dad and my five brothers for over 20 years in northwest Colorado. And, I hope to someday hunt with my three young daughters. In my experience, while admittedly circumstantial, we have seen less elk in GMU 14 following the construction of the Buffalo Pass Trails Project. I am certainly concerned about these opportunities disappearing along with our hunting heritage.

    The existing trails are not at capacity and the area surrounding Steamboat Springs is not lacking in outdoor opportunities. Why then, are we so motivated to build yet another enormous network of trails through a road-less area in sensitive elk habitat, including calving grounds/production areas?

    It is imperative that each user group not simply blame other user groups. We all have an impact on wildlife and habitat and it’s time we collectively understand these impacts and their implications for the future of our wildlife, our outdoor recreating, and our local economies.

    Want more information? Check out www.keeprouttwild.com

    About Luke Wiedel

    I'm a life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. I have guided in Southeast Alaska for 20 years and am an avid outdoorsman and conservationist. I live in Wheat Ridge, CO in the winter months with my wife and three young daughters.

    The Mountain

    The Mountain

    By Jimmy Laner

    5 minute read

    Burning lungs, throbbing knees, pounding heart.

    The climb was brutal, but the elk were there. The only thing was, they were at 8,000 feet elevation and we were at, well, a little more than 6,000.

    So up the mountain we went.

    Four guys in hot pursuit of elk. Two good friends, a guy that works on their bows and knows his way around a camera, and myself in tow for the ride. We really didn’t know each other at all, but for that short time we were one in the same, about to make the cavalry charge up the mountain after the only real bull we had heard all day.


    The story starts with myself getting into the elk woods for the first hunt after the big move to Idaho. I had done everything I could to prepare for the day, but didn’t do a whole lot of preparing for deciphering the calls of a terminator-tube-blowing human versus the calls of an actual bull elk. I made the mistake of getting close to what ultimately became fellow elk hunters out in the woods. While I pondered what to do, a group came meandering up the trail towards me. Thankfully they decided to stop and have a chat. We joked about what was going on in front of us and I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t lie to them about knowing it was a bunch of guys running around bugling at each other. A little white lie never hurt anybody though.

    We talked about the lack of elk and the over abundance of hunters seen that morning. The lead man, a gruff, burly looking guy with a scruffy beard, looked like he had been chasing elk the entire month of September. The signs were there. The five o’clock shadow that had long since turned into the days old beard after the five o’clock shadow wore off. The busted knuckles from trees and brush. The beat up Phelps game calls bugle tube. The more we all talked, the more I started liking them. The two others bringing up the rear had all the same top of the line gear as the first, and the one at the end carried a camera on a monopod. I didn’t realize what I was about to get into, but that all changed once I figured out who I had actually been talking to.

    This whole conversation shifted once I heard the lead guy mention how his feet still hurt from hunting down in Colorado with the Born and Raised crew. I came to the quick realization that the voice was so familiar because I had just heard it at the beginning of the week on the Meateater podcast. It was none other than Jason Phelps himself, along with pro staffer Tyson Drevniak, and cameraman Cody Simons. They joked about hunting their way out the opposite direction I was walking and then having to hitchhike back to the trucks at the top of the mountain, so I joked back that if they let me hunt with them that direction, I’d give them a lift to the top of the mountain. So we struck a deal. And needless to say, I was pumped. I tried my best not to fanboy it out, but I couldn’t help myself. I was texting my wife and dad, telling them what was going on, all while trying to hide my phone so I didn’t come off as being “that guy.” Of course my wife had no clue who I was talking about. My dad didn’t either since I had misspelled his name and they both thought I was talking about former Cleveland Indians baseball player Josh Phelps. Stupid autocorrect.

    But I didn’t care anyway - I was just trying to live in the moment.

    We marched our way single file back down the trail and got to the steepest area and Jason decided to let out a bugle to see what would come of it. And low and behold, a lazy bugle right back at us. I guess he does know what he’s doing after all. The decision was made to hoof it up over the top. I stayed in the back because I didn’t want to rock the boat. This was their hunt. They had the cameras, and I was just along for the ride. I wasn’t going to ruin anything for them, and was secretly hoping they arrowed a bull so I could help them pack it out. We got about halfway up the mountain and the bull is still responding back to nearly everything they say to him. We continue climbing. And calling. And climbing.

    Nearing the top now and closing the distance. We’re probably less than 250 yards away and they’re starting to heat things up. I’ve heard of the slow play, and they’re (not surprisingly) working it perfectly. I’m just taking it all in. We get to our final spot at the top and decide we can’t get any closer without being seen. I’m still in the back, covering any sort of circling elk that could spoil the entire setup, but mainly just staying out of the way and hoping to have a front row seat to anything that’s going to happen. Tyson is about ten yards in front of me calling, and Jason is about twenty yards in front of him with his bow, with Cody in his right hip pocket with the camera.

    It’s about this time that Tyson whispers to Jason something along the lines of “do you think he’s ready for a challenge?” And Jason’s response- “let him have it.” So he ripped off a challenge bugle. I’ve seen animals in their respective breeding seasons respond in a manner that they’re going to do some butt kicking, but it’s a little different when you’re on the ground, and they’re three to four times your size. The bull in question showed up pretty fast after that challenge, fully ready to fight anything with an antler in its head. Unfortunately, he showed up higher than we hoped and all we could see was his back, head and antlers. Scanning. Looking. And finally trotting off the opposite direction- never to be seen again.

    The show was over. We crossed the creek and I hauled them back up to the top of the mountain. I like not seeing other people when I’m out hunting, but I really hope I get to run into one of them in the future. I spent the rest of the season roaming those mountains, hoping to find that bull again, but something deep down in my gut hoped the bull Tyson later downed was that same bull that came in and ran away.

    It doesn’t matter what the outcome is. It’s all about the experience.

    Whether that’s in the elk woods or in everyday life, it’s what you take from the process rather than what the ultimate outcome is that means the most. That bull walked straight out of our lives forever, but the things I learned in such a short time were priceless. Just because something may seem hard or not worth it at the time doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it in the long run. Just because you don’t want to do something because your body or heart aches doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase it.

    Life’s ultimately about that chase. So get out there and chase it. Lose all inhibitions. Experience life and all it has to offer. And never, ever, let a bugle go unanswered.

    You can follow Jimmy on Instagram @idaho_archer

    7 Day Hunt

    7 Day Hunt

    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador Katie DeLorenzo, @newmexicohuntress
    13 minute read


    Day 1


    We got to the mountain late Friday night threw our stuff out of the truck at camp and started hunting. Within the first hour of hiking ridge tops a quick locater bugle was answered with a scream. We made our way into the next bowl and a bull was on the opposite slope looking our way. My hunting partner was a ways ahead of me and our first attempt to communicate using hand signals was a bit clumsy.


    He wanted me to stalk down and up the slope but, considering he was ahead of me and at a much better elevation to stay out of sight, I retreated behind the hill we had just come from to watch. He made the stalk and as he was headed up the hill a big bull came out of nowhere from the next bowl. He walked along the ridge and after some grazing & beating up a juniper he bedded. I thought my friend had surely heard the bull right above him but the slope made it impossible to see his giant body and rack bedded just above. The smaller bull he originally went after grazed up the slope, clueless. By the time the bull was in his view he had spooked and stood up but there was no time to range and shoot.


    He barked and with a few swift strides he was gone. We hiked back to the truck in the dark. My friend abruptly stopped and I followed suit. He had heard a rattle and then seen a banded rock rattlesnake. I was unsettled but had seen pictures of this small venomous snake before and found them intriguing.


    When we were almost back to the truck we spotted two more bulls. One of them was a monster with a behemoth body and rack, so we dubbed him Goliath. With only minutes left of shooting light we crouched in the grass and tried to entice him to come closer, but he refused. Having seen multiple bulls and Goliath in just one evening we ended the day full of optimism and excitement for the adventure to come. We headed back to setup camp, make dinner and strategize for day 2.


    Day 2


    The morning started off with chasing a bugle above our camp to no avail. Glassing a bowl I spotted a white object lying in the grass. Sure enough, I finally picked up a nice elk shed, my biggest yet. We switched gears for the evening hunt, hiking deep into the timbered forest. It was almost too thick to see but with the bulls shut up, locating through glass was our only option.


    Eventually a spotting session paid off with finding two bulls bedded on the opposite ridge. It was getting close to dark but we had time to make the stalk. We dropped in and setup but the bulls didn’t talk back and didn’t come in. We made our way up the hill hoping to maybe jump them, but they slipped away in silence. We started the long hike back to camp.


    Day 3


    We were on a ridge at first light. As shapes came into view and the sky filled with color we made out two bulls grazing a high meadow. They grazed while we covered ground below, darting from tree to tree. One of the pair was a hog but even when he bedded on the steep vegetated slope it was nearly impossible to pin him down. I stared into a tiny gap in the trees watching for for glimpses of antlers as he adjusted his giant head.


    Before we could plan a stalk thermals kicked in and wafted up the canyon. The bulls dumped over the next ridge and easily disappeared. We hydrated and refueled then hiked even deeper into the forest. We spotted two nice bulls another ridge away and started making our way to them, always mindful of where we could down a bull and retrieve the meat with no spoilage. With highs in the 80’s and lows in the 50’s getting out a bull elk with just my friend and I would be grueling. On our approach we jumped two young bulls. Once again my friend was about 10 yards ahead of me down the slope. We crouched and while he started cow calling I knocked an arrow. He told me to stand, the bull was coming.


    Right before I knew I’d be within view I drew back. I had practiced 1 minute holds but it’s different with an elk in your sight. I fought the instinct to settle my pin and release, keeping my elbow at an angle for leverage and calming my breath as he took one slow step after another. I held for what seemed like an eternity as he made his way to us looking for cows. He was a younger bull and lucky for him he walked up right behind a downed tree. Even though he was quartered to me he was close and I felt confident I could hit lungs and kill him quickly. I adjusted my sight to line up with vitals and let an arrow fly. It slammed into a branch and deflected.


    The scared bull ran down the slope and stopped broadside. My friend shot but the steep slope threw off his range. The arrow fly over the bull’s back. Little did we know this was the first of two solid opportunities that were blessings in disguise. I learned a lot from this first shot situation and was grateful for a clean miss.


    Day 4


    Having seen 7 bulls the day before we returned to the same spot. We found an old cabin and some gorgeous meadows but only one bull during our long 12 hour day. Once again, we made our way to his canyon and setup but he never responded to calling. It seemed like we had worked the elk too hard the day before and they pushed off to the west and south. Not to mention the large herd of wild donkeys whose presence was maddening. Intermittently throughout the day we’d hear the stomp of hooves followed by the most obnoxious hee-hawing sound in the world.


    They disrupt the wildlife and simply don’t belong on the landscape in the numbers we observed. The next day we either needed to switch spots or go even deeper. The thought of going even deeper with only two of us just didn’t seem doable. The problem wasn’t getting in, but getting out with an entire elk and only two packers. I had been training all year but at 5 foot 4 and 117 lbs., I can only haul so much elk at once. We had to be realistic. Although I had dreamed of killing my first elk for months, recovering our animals and their meat was by far our top priority. The day wasn’t lost.


    My friend glassed up a monster hard white, bigger than mine and with amazing mass on the main beam. He strapped the heavy antler on his pack and we worked through canyon after canyon, desperately listening for a bugle or any sign of the many animals we found the day before. By now this route was familiar, making navigation simpler, but the mental grind a bit tougher. We kept moving and listening, knowing that perseverance and grit was the only hope we had to harvest in this tough public unit with hardly any road access.


     Day 5 


    After hours of glassing I spotted a cow on a far away slope. Four bulls then dropped into the same canyon and we moved to cut them off. I had gone one way, my partner another. I couldn’t find them and moved had already moved back up the hill to glass when they ran right by my previous position. Another chance blown. I was dejected and we decided to either stay together or make lone stalks. Little did I know I’d soon have the best stalk opportunity of our 9 day trip. But I felt like a terrible hunter. Of course I should have been more patient, should have glassed harder, should have stayed in position.


    Minutes later he spotted a solid 6x bedded under a rocky outcropping. He prepped me as I dropped my pack. I ran behind the backside of the peak bow in hand, careful to avoid cactus and clanking shale. I reached the saddle and took off my shoes to start a slow descent. Afternoon thermals pushed the wind up the slope and provided some sound cover. I panned over to my friend with my binos for the occasional thumbs up that the bull was unaware. I picked each step carefully, placing my feet on rocks and avoiding crunchy bunch grass.


    Finally. I made it to the bluff and ranged the ledge below to get my bearings. It was all within my range of 50 yards max. He may have heard my feet settle on the steep rocky slope because he stood up. I saw antlers and knew he’d cross my lane but when I tried to draw back I failed, either from bull fever or trying to draw more subtly. He started leaving. I drew back swiftly the second time and cow called. He stopped broadside. I released an arrow that flew over his back, misjudging because of a steep angle. Tears flowed as I was sure this was my perfect chance. I blew it. Although I didn’t seal the deal I got within 25 yards of a big bull, and that was a win. We spent the afternoon calling a herd bull but never got close enough to make him come fight. That was the start of a very long night.


     day 5


     Focused on bulls we lost track of time. Before we know it dusk was approaching and our water supply was running low. I had worn my trail runners because my boots had rubbed my ankle raw. As we stared our trek back we walked through a deep arroyo split by a large shrub pile. My partner went right and thought he heard a rattle. I started to go left and upon my first step a long black snake slithered into the pile. My heart stopped. I told him it was only a garter snake and we should keep moving, more aware than ever of my poor footwear (Great for bow hunting, not for rattlesnake infested rock piles).


    I made it around the shrub pile and not 20 seconds later as we climbed up the bank an aggressive rattle sounded off from the rock pile below our feet. My friend located the source and we cautiously moved past it. I froze, fear in my eyes and afraid to go on. It seemed like they were everywhere and we had many miles of hiking in the dark to climb out of the canyon and reach the safety and relief of the truck. He told me to take a deep breath and keep moving. They always warn you, he said. I did.


    I reclaimed my composure and was on high alert as we ascended the canyon, walking over rocky slopes perfect for the banded rock rattlers that live here. We went over many more rock piles and climbed cliff bands in the dark with one hand gripping my bow and another grasping for the next sure hold. We finally summited and a wave of relief swept over me. Then, he spotted two pairs of large glowing eyes in a tree on the canyon’s edge.


    He told me to jump the fence while he made sure they winded us to know we weren’t prey. We couldn’t be sure if they were bobcats or mountain lions but they were cats. One set of eyes leaping from the tree to crouch in the high grass. We hurried to put distance between us, glancing back to make sure we weren’t being followed. When we finally reached the truck I was exhausted. I had never experienced such intense uneasiness for an extended period of time. That night I had to dig deep to take the next step and focus on my senses to stay safe. I later read a saying that rings true when I think about this experience “The only way past fear is through it.”


     Day 6


    We hunted hard the first 5 days, as in dawn til dusk hiking and glassing 10 - 15 miles a day, hard. My legs were spent and my heels completely raw. I had already missed two shots and doubt filled my mind. Am I strong enough to keep going? Can I keep up with my hunting partner and beat the the physical exhaustion and the rattlesnakes? He spotted a large group of bedded elk. We got within range to bugle and “steal” his cows and three bulls roared to life. This is what we came for. I stood under a tree with an arrow knocked. I had eyes on two of the bulls but only heard the third. He was coming in hot and I knew he might surprise us. Before I could turn 180 to face the other lane I heard hooves and he was broadside at 30 yards. I turned to shoot but he spooked and ran off. That was close.


    My hunting partner was frustrated. So was I. I know animals are unpredictable and this was just like turkey hunting, but with a 500 pound giant. How in the world did I mess that up? I told my friend to hunt alone. I wasn’t executing and wanted to quit, or at least that’s what I said. It was his turn and it would be easier with me out of the way.


     Day 6



    Within a few emotional minutes we had talked it out and relocated the herd a canyon away. The bigger bull descended into the plains with his harem, screaming at the smaller bull who was on our slope to stay the hell away. We crept through the grass when we spotted his cows only 40 yards away. The wind swirled and with a few alert glances our direction the cows sensed predators and started leaving. My friend cow called to calm them then bugled. The curious bull came to see his opponent. We both knocked arrows as the bull’s antlers came into view. Another bugle brought him closer. His head and neck rising above the tall grass. I tried to draw and couldn’t. My wrist sling was too tight making it impossible to anchor and draw back. I told my friend to shoot.

    As he drew back I removed my hand from the wrist sling, gripped my bow and drew back. I settled my pin at 40, eyeballing the range and waiting for my partner’s shot. When after a few seconds he didn’t shoot I released my arrow. The bull ran. At first I thought I sent another arrow into the abyss, missing my target, but my friend promptly said “You got him.” The lethal frontal shot hit a main artery and lungs. I watched the bull intently, praying for a quick death and smooth recovery.

    Once the bull was down my worry and reverence turned to disbelief. I couldn’t believe it and warm happy tears streamed down my face. Grateful for the harvest and for the unforgettable moment. My mouth gaped as we approached the bull’s massive body. I took a few minutes to admire him and soak in the moment before we started breaking him down. We placed the meat in game bags and nestled them in a juniper until we could return in the morning for the second load. With as much meat as we could carry we clicked our headlamps on and started the 2.5 mile hike back to the truck. We didn’t think it could get any better, but then again, we didn’t know how good the next day would be.


     Day 7


    We were back at my kill site at dawn. My legs ached from the previous 6 days but I found new energy in carrying out my first elk. The meat kept well cooling in the canyon air overnight, but we needed to get it on ice. I struggled to stand but welcomed the simple, singular task. My rapid-fire brain cleared completely and for the next few hours all that mattered was the next step. Staying high on ridges and dodging verticals we made it 1.5 miles before the morning heat forced a break. He dropped the tagged head from his cumbersome load so we could finish the last leg of the trip more quickly. We delivered the meat for hanging and were back on the same mountain by late afternoon.

    We would hunt this area until we hiked out at dusk with my elk’s rack. The elk were blown out of where we had seen them so we covered new ground, making a long climb to the highest slope. He reached into his bino case and realized it was empty. He was so tired he had left them on the last ridge. We backtracked and found his glass, deciding we should get to camp early tonight and rest. Tomorrow was the last day of the hunt and the last chance to kill his first elk. When we reached my elk rack he let out a meager cow call into the empty air, expecting silence in return.

    Out of nowhere, a bull roared back within 100 yards. Our eyes widened with disbelief. He saw some cows and told me to lay down slowly. With good wind he made his way to some tree cover, intermittently screaming back at the hot bull to cut him off. The bull grew furious, thrashing a small tree and giving perfect sight and sound cover. When the bull finally stilled and stood broadside my friend sent a perfectly placed arrow through both lungs. I couldn’t see the shot but heard the thwack. Triumphant, he raised his bow in the air and a muffled celebration followed. We had filled two tags in the same area, back-to-back days.

    Placing our final load of racks in the truck we popped open a couple cheap, cold beers, reveling in the highs and lows of the hunt and cherishing the opportunity to overcome. We had both found a new level of grit and determination and knew we’d leave that mountain better hunters and better humans.


    Consumers of Meat

    Consumers of Meat

    By Hunt To Eat Ambassador, Colt Tupen
    4 Minute Read

    “Woah!” They start. “What do you even do with it?” With a puzzled look on his face he responds, “It’s Meat Sir.”

    This is an excerpt from an interview I heard on the radio months ago where the Host was interviewing John Mayer. John had mentioned eating Elk that his friend had shot in Montana and was met with a flabbergasted reaction. This hit home with me and was reminiscent of any time that I have ever cooked, or even talked about cooking wild game, with someone unfamiliar with it. The truth is, wild game carries a sort of mystique.

    Colt and Son.

    Over the years, Man has lost its connection with the natural world. In the now, food is literally available at the press of the button. You are never more than a block or two away from a meal. While this is great in terms of having food available for all, the convenience has caused us as humans to underappreciate our food. I’d venture to say the majority of people eat their food without even so much as a passing thought to the backstory. The reality is, the burger or chicken breast you are eating came from an animal, and one that you will likely never know how it was treated, raised or handled.

    Herein lies the problem.

    As consumers of meat, we are complicit in the treatment of that animal in which we have eaten, whether we choose to think about it or not. When we choose to consume that product, we make the choice to join the chain.

    When you hunt for your food, you are making a conscious decision to break free from this chain. You are making the decision to enter into the wild, the animal's home field, to attempt to outsmart a truly wild creature (a creature that has spent its life free to roam wherever it pleases), in hopes of completing a swift and painless kill. I can assure you that if you are lucky enough to have success, you will never have more gratitude for that animal than in that moment. You’ll be compelled to use every part of that animal and take pride every time you serve it. And plus, you will be eating some of the finest table fare you will ever lay your hands on, and much healthier, too. A 3-ounce piece of venison contains ½ the number of calories, more protein, and about an eighth the amount of fat when compared to a piece of beef of the same proportion.


    Additionally, The Department of Agriculture predicted for 2018 that Americans would eat a record amount of meat and poultry. 222.2 pounds per person, on average.

    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in their 2016 report found there were 39.6 million active hunters and / or anglers in the U.S.

    That’s a lot of meat consumption, the majority of which is not being hunted.  

    But don’t fret, I have great news. Hunting opportunities abound in this country and I think you will find the hunting community is an incredibly welcoming community, and is more than willing to introduce you to their world. As a hunter, you are not only responsibly seeking your next meal, but you are contributing huge money towards conservation in the process. All the money spent on Licenses, Tags etc., goes directly back into conserving habitat and wildlife. You are making a difference!

    It won’t be easy. There will be times of failure. There will be defeat. There will be times that are downright grueling. But out of these experiences will come something so great, so fulfilling, the result will be beyond worth it. Memories that are irreplaceable and freezers that are full. If you are on the fence about hunting, I urge you to take the leap. Regain your connection to your wild side that lies within. You won’t regret it!