Now that the chaotic holiday season has passed and we’ve had a bit of time to settle into the new year, I can’t help but find myself looking forward to warmer weather, fishing, camping, and especially to one of my favorite times of year— hunting season. When I bring up my excitement about planning for another year of hunting to non-hunters, I typically get asked the same sort of question. Although it’s worded in a variety of ways, it usually boils down to, “That’s cool, but WHY?” And to be fair, that’s a valid question considering that we are putting ourselves at the mercy of Mother Nature and she doesn’t always play fair. In Colorado, we have several seasons of hunting that depend on the animal you’re hunting (deer, elk, bear, etc.) and the weapon you’re hunting with (bow, rifle, or muzzleloader). My family typically hunts Colorado during the 2nd or 3rd seasons for elk (rifle) and the 1st (muzzleloader) or 3rd (rifle) seasons for deer. While the exact dates of the hunting seasons varies each year, 2nd and 3rd seasons usually fall at the end of October and go through mid-November and the areas we hunt are around 7,500+ feet in elevation. We have had a few years of brutally cold weather, snow for days, and found ourselves questioning how we were ever going to get the camper out in that mess. I never walk more than I do during hunting season, and usually put in an average of 7 miles a day hiking. So again, I can see why people ask me why I would put myself through that. But, and hear me out, it’s so worth it!!!! Here’s why I do it:
#1. Family Tradition
The quality time spent with my dad making new memories and hearing about old ones is truly invaluable. This is my favorite part of hunting, and what I most look forward to every year. I get to spend anywhere from 1-2 weeks in the forest, unplugged, hunting with my dad. Time I don’t think we would get in any other setting. I have heard so many stories sitting down to dinner after a long day that would likely never have come up outside of that hunting camp. Stories about my dad and my grandpa hunting together, just like my dad and I do now. I may come home from our hunting trip tired and in need of a hot shower, but I come back with an overflowing heart and a renewed closeness with my dad, which is the best harvest I could ask to bring home when you really get down to it.
The hunting community in Colorado has been one of the most pleasant surprises of going from hunting in New Mexico to hunting in Colorado. In the area we have hunted for the past three years, there is a mix of people from all over the country, people of different socioeconomic statuses, religions, and politics. People who are all competing against each other hunting the same animals in the same area. Yet, the sense of community amongst everyone is so palpable. Whether it’s tracking down strangers to tell them that their hunting party member is stuck in the woods, stopping your hunt to help pull someone out of a snowdrift, or simply stopping by to say hello and staying for an unexpected dinner and beers, everyone seems to put aside their stressors and the things that separate us in the “real world” and we bond over our love for the outdoors and hunting.
#3. Sunrises and Sunsets
Hunting season is the only span of time where I see the sunrise and the sunset every single day. As someone who struggles with mornings, it might surprise you to know that I actually look forward to the sunrise each morning of the hunt, the blues, purples, and pinks. I even love how the sunrise tricks me into thinking it’s going to warm up the day, but the radiation of the heat stored in the earth is still more than that of the sun on the horizon, so there is a surprise dip in temps just after dawn that wakes me up in the same way a cold plunge would. This weird mixing of temperatures and radiation from the sun often makes my eyelashes freeze into tiny icicles, making the colors of the sunrise even more beautiful. In day-to-day life, I see sunsets fairly regularly, but I rarely get to sit and watch the sun go down in complete silence with gratitude and reflection on the day in the same way I do when I’m hunting. There’s something about watching the sun’s cycle in the stillness and quiet of the forest, where sometimes it’s so peaceful a bird flying overhead can startle you, that makes the sunrises and sunsets more magical than usual.
#4. The Animal(s) Instinct
The lessons I’ve learned while hunting and observing the animals around us are so different from the skills I learned in college to succeed in my career. These skills take me back before we had computers or food processing on the scale we do today. I’ve learned to track animals to better understand their patterns, to identify how long ago they left the tracks and if they were running or walking, and to tell if they were alone vs. with a herd. I’ve learned patience and what it is to really be still. These skills may seem silly out in society, but they are so rare these days and I’m so grateful to have the knowledge. Some people see hunters as hating animals or being cruel. In my experience, that tends to be the complete opposite of the hunters I’ve encountered. Most hunters are out there not just for meat, but also because they love observing the animals, and not just the ones they are hunting. I’ve had the pleasure of observing such a variety of animals in their natural habitats, just doing their thing, uninterrupted by humans. Some of the animals I’ve observed while hunting include turkeys, hawks, eagles, owls, bears, coyotes, and a mountain lion. Getting to sit in stillness and watch them is an experience that never gets old.
#5. The Meat
I grew up eating mostly deer and elk meat, and never understood why my friends would think our hamburgers tasted “funny” compared to the (beef) burgers they had at home. I didn’t appreciate it back then; but if I had the supply, I would love to be on that same wild diet now. I have a great respect and appreciation for the animals that have helped to keep me fed for all of my life. I have to attribute that to the way my parents raised us to hunt- as meat hunters, not trophy hunters. I was always taught to be thankful and respectful of the animal’s life that was lost to feed us. From the harvest, to processing/butchering and wrapping the meat at home, to cooking and eating a meal together as a family, it is all a process of traditions that we cherish and look forward to carrying on from generation to generation.
There are still a few months before I will need to apply for the hunting lotteries for the 2023 seasons, and even longer until the hunting season actually starts, but I’m already daydreaming about the adventures to come this year and the memories I’ll make with my dad.