Bless me father for I have sinned. My last elk hunt was several years ago.
In Montana, elk hunting is akin to religion. You don’t have to be a true believer, but a day spent chasing elk, following tracks in the snow, or even sitting in the woods and watching the natural world unfold can be as beautiful as time spent in a cathedral.
This is not to belittle anyone’s beliefs in an afterlife, a Creator or sacred writings. Rather it is a plea to understand the person who puts time, effort and money into a pursuit in which approximately three out of four people fail each year. Fail to bring home elk meat, that is.
No one who goes forth in search of elk is a failure, no matter what he or she brings home. Like prayer, the effort alone can be fulfilling, character building.
About 110,000 people hunt elk in Montana, according to the most recent figures. Those hunters took home close to 28,000 elk. That from a state in which the elk population continues to increase, creeping closer and closer to 200,000 going into the fall hunting season.
The economics of hunting is easy to understand. Recent studies show that elk, deer and antelope hunters combined spent an estimated $324 million in Montana. That money supports more than 3,300 jobs.
Harder to grasp is the strength and depth of an elk hunter’s passion, though indications exist from backcountry camps to urbanites visiting farm and ranch country.
Then again, some folks don’t understand the need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca or Lourdes.
To each their own.
What I do know is the magic, the pull, the attraction of elk hunting. Elk generally live in beautiful, often remote areas. As wary animals, elk respond to hunting pressure by heading to the most inaccessible country available to them.
It can be difficult, challenging even, to get to those spots and because elk are typically herd animals, tough to sneak up on with so many eyes. Success sometimes comes from just finding them, counting coup.
Guilt sometimes comes from realizing that several years have passed without even trying to hunt when no serious obstacles exist.
Look, the pursuit of said elk species is usually not easy and no one in this corner of the universe is getting any younger. Each year the mountains grow taller, the backpack seems heavier, the muscles ache more. Elk hunting is a young person’s game.
So why, you may ask, do I continue to go elk hunting even when each year it gets harder? Social Security is here, 60 years have disappeared from the rearview mirror and the television has lots of channels.
In Montana, hunting and fall are synonymous.
No one is saying go elk hunting if you are hurt, incapacitated or family matters interfere. However, some might say to give up the sport for no good reason is apostasy.
Now say an act of contrition, then go and sin no more.