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Adventure, Shoot / October 30, 2016

On the hunting tribe

Written by: Justin Park

Great hunters probably exist. There are probably people who can bullseye an animal with an arrow at 100 yards, stalk within feet of a mule deer, or spot a rabbit’s eye in a sea of brambles.

I am not one of them.

My friends who don’t hunt may think of me as some mighty woodsman since all they see is the seemingly endless supply of meat in my freezer. But I’ve been Elmer Fudd way more often than Fred Bear. I’ve been with my pants down, literally, while an animal strolled past. More than once. 

If my only measure of success in the field was quarry in the cooler, I’d have quit back when my father first took me out “pheasant hunting.” We could easily have just called what we did that trip “walking the dog in a field with guns”.

I probably should have quit a couple years back when I had a shot that would’ve dropped two geese with one shell…had I remembered to load my shotgun.

Luckily, there is more than one way to succeed in the pursuit we call hunting. And it’s been those smaller victories, not the kills, that have kept me chasing after my own meat all these years.


The suffering of packing your camp in and out on your back is mitigated when you flex alongside your father.

My brother's first elk was an animal we almost never found.

A quick fact-check put my ego in place this year on my annual elk hunting trip with my Dad and brother in {top-secret location redacted}.

My father, who tends to see my woodsmanship through rose-colored glasses, asked “Have you gotten an elk up here every year?”

I scoffed and took a minute to do the math: countless days over five years in our supposed honey hole and only two elk to show for it.

This year’s edition of our annual father-sons hunting trip was another of those empty-handed trips. I rushed a stalk on a group of elk I had spotted early on, and instead of me creeping into archery range, I stumbled into the open and watched one of the biggest bulls I’ve ever seen lead his harem over a ridge, never to return during our trip.

Later, I’d struggle to forgive myself for taking a 75-yard shot in dwindling light at a cow moose that I thankfully missed clean instead of injuring.

“…fall elk hunting has become our Christmas. Instant rice with foraged mushrooms and pieces of elk has become our Christmas dinner. ”

I was blowing it and I knew it, so I decided rather than keep pushing harder and harder (which obviously hadn’t been working), I’d shift my focus. I knew I could hunt an area that would give me a perfect vantage for putting binoculars to the drainage my brother was hunting and might let me stumble upon an elk myself.

I didn’t ever stumble on that elk, but over the course of a few days I was able to pattern the elk near my brother and pass along as much intel as I could.

I did not get an elk that trip, but I’ve filed the trip away as a rousing success all the same because of the intangibles I did get. I got to play a role in my brother taking his first big game animal ever. I got a week in the woods with my Dad and brother without cell phones, sports on TV, email or restaurants. (We did have bacon, coffee and Life Savers.)

My brother lives on one coast, my Dad on the other, and I’m in the middle. We rarely do holidays all together, so fall elk hunting has become our Christmas. Instant rice with foraged mushrooms and pieces of elk has become our Christmas dinner. Outside of funerals, the hunt is the only time we’re all in the same place.

Until this year, neither my Dad or brother had shot an animal on our hunt. But that didn’t matter.

This year, my own misses were forgotten in the excitement and demands of finding my brother’s animal, butchering it, then packing out 100+ pounds of elk six miles to my truck.

If you're going to be utterly exhausted and see no elk, you might as well have a pretty backdrop.

Just another annoyingly beautiful sunrise over the year's first snow with no animals in sight.

Where we hunt on our annual elk trip, you have to carry your meat out on your back if you’re lucky enough to get one.

There’s an unofficial trail, but you probably couldn’t get a dirtbike in there even if you were allowed. Forget an ATV. Maybe a nimble mule.

This year I carried out my brother’s elk. I took comfort, despite the pain in my hips and shoulders, in the fact that he had carried out my kill twice in past years. And he’ll no doubt help carry my load again.

There’s an unwritten understanding among hunters that “Thou shalt help others deal with their animal,” and the tradition of doing so has become one of my favorite parts of the sport.

But it wasn’t always. It isn’t always.


Getting a moose's worth of meat out of the wilderness was made easier with a little help from my friends.

The crushingly heavy part of scoring elk meat that most people never see.

That tradition embarrassed me when I shot my first deer. My dad was at work and four neighbors showed up to advise me while I gutted it.

It inconvenienced me when my buddy and I hiked six miles with our camp on our backs to start our backcountry elk hunt and ran into a friend who had an animal down. He needed help getting it out the six miles we had just finished.

But when your own hunting isn’t coming together, it’s cathartic to shoulder another hunter’s success. You know that your turn will come—and that when it does, you won’t have to carry it all yourself.

When I had the incredible good fortune this fall to draw a Colorado moose license, two of my best friends took a full week away from life and work to help.

When I finally shot a moose many miles and vertical feet from anything that could be called a trail, I sent one text message and suddenly had four friends en route with empty packs and positive mental attitudes.

This time, I was thankful to dress the animal in front of four grown men. I was even happier to load parts of it on their backs.

I actually look forward to the day I can pay them back by shouldering their success in the field. But for now, moose steaks will have to suffice.

about the author

Justin Park

Justin is a Breckenridge, Colorado-based videographer and writer with strong roots back home in Upstate New York. His passions alternate between the shamelessly frivolous and the ruthlessly practical. There’s backcountry skiing and mountain biking for the sheer thrill of it. There’s hunting, foraging, spearfishing and cooking to put food on the table.

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