In Defense of Killing: Part 4
Guns had been peripherally present in my life since high school. I always had friends whose parents had guns or who had guns themselves but it was always a side note; looked down upon by my own parents and not of huge interest to myself. In summer camp as a 13 year old I won an NRA medal for marksmanship with a .22 cal rifle that I’m pretty sure every child who looks at the gun is granted as emotional incentive to rope in lifetime voters and financial contributors. The first time I shot a friend’s dad’s rifle with a scope in high school I gave myself a black eye. That said, I was comfortable around guns and a probably more confident in being a good shot than I could merit.
My business partner has always been more enthusiastic about firearms. He grew up getting dropped off by his parents at the trap shooting club where he would spend hours shooting clay pigeons and owns a variety of his own guns. He lives on a chunk of land adjacent to National Forest and in Colorado anyone is allowed to discharge a firearm on National Forest.
We headed into the woods and hung targets on trees, strung wires and hung cashed propane canisters and random chunks of metal. It was ruby ridge style militia training at it’s best. I envisioned an elk standing at the various distances and began to feel comfortable that I was capable of hitting an animal in the kill zone if I had it in my sites at 100 yards. I still didn’t know how I’d feel about taking the shot but at least I was confident I had the skills to do it if my moral compass pointed in the elk’s direction.
I arrived at the Colorado Division of Wildlife building at 6am ready to buy my hunting license with no idea what to expect. A complicated maze of signs lead from the parking lot to an open building that reeked of governmental institution and a room was set up like the proctoring site for a standardized test or some certification. 2 rows of 5 temporary tables faced the front of the room where some kind of authority figures sat waiting to be consulted or scold someone for talking out of turn. The tables were occupied in silence almost completely by middle-aged white men. I stared blankly at the pages of Game Management Unit codes and realized I hadn’t fully prepared. I caught harsh stares from the front of the room as used my lifeline and consulted my prospective hunting partner via cell phone, filled out my request form, and filed to the front of the room. The next building I was ushered toward had a large sign on the door.
“Please, don’t bring animal heads in this building!”
For $150 I left legally permitted to kill 2 elk and any migratory bird or small animal in season.
As my elk season approached I began the research process. I started spending time looking nervously over my shoulder as Youtube snuff films of big game being gutted and butchered played on my screen. The gore was never an issue but there was the constant concern that someone might catch a glance at my screen. I would assume that the average coffee shop patron might be slightly alarmed when instead of seeing the ever-present Facebook they caught the images of a bearded man covered in blood and pulling at the intestines of a 1000lbs animal on my Macbook Pro.
Searching “field dressing elk” was a window into a new world that I didn’t know existed. Hundreds upon hundreds of videos stored in the collective conscious of the internet feature different methods, advice, speed records, and mishaps involving cutting up animals of all creed. The Youtube association game of interconnected links from that starting point will always lead you somewhere you didn’t want to be within one or two clicks.
The instructional sites of self-proclaimed experts, usually poorly designed and almost always leading to a self published for-profit DVD collection or book, are a window into the world of novice hunters. The first piece of advice is invariably: get yourself into some modicum of physical health. Then next piece of advice is “do some planning”. The impression one gets after visiting a few of these sites is that the average beginning hunter aligns well with Steinbeck’s estimation of the majority of hunters in Travels with Charley, “…Every fall a great number of men set out to prove that without talent, training, knowledge, or practice they are dead shots with rifle or shotgun.” He continues, “I know there are any number of good and efficient hunters who know what they are doing; but many more are overweight gentlemen, primed with whiskey and armed with high-powered rifles…”
I’ve found that these stereotypes are a consistent part of the hunting experience. Both from the perspective that many of the stereotypes seem to prove true far too often and that, after having an almost completely diametric personal experience of hunting, I have to endlessly explain away the stereotypes.
After months of preparations and years of anticipation, I finished work on the Friday prior to the beginning of hunting season, packed up my car and headed toward my Unit (hunting verbiage short for game management unit, the area which your permit allows you to hunt) on Independence Pass, just east of Aspen, CO. I completed most of the drive in the dark, parked at a trailhead I had scouted during the summer, unpacked my sleeping bag and set my alarm for 3am, three hours later.
To begin the series from the beginning start HERE.