I just spent 10 days deep in the forest of Flagstaff pursuing elk with a bow. Every important value I hold in my life was tested. Patience, persistence, discipline and the connection to something greater.
When immersed in the sacred world of hunting, you can’t help but feel touched by a realm long forgotten by the majority of modern humans. On the final evening, exhausted and defeated, I was about to give up.
As I surrendered and let go of the need to succeed, the elk gods gave their blessing.
Driving home through the woods, my emotions were a dark brew of sadness and grief. The handful of missed opportunities haunted my mind. My personal pity party evaporated as I looked over to see a small group of elk ghosting through the trees.
I pulled up a few hundred yards and stopped the car. I crept out the door and slipped off my shoes. I stalked my quarry barefoot and with an empty mind through the dimly lit final minutes of light. In hunting, as in life, everything can change in an instant.
Darkness was filling the scene as I steadily pushed forward, using every inch of the trees in front of me as cover. The cow elk looked at me inquisitively as I crept up. I made calls attempting to appear as if one of her kind.
There was not a moment to waste. The elk would bolt at any minute and what would likely be my only opportunity would slip away.
In the final seconds of light, I drew my bow, said a prayer and let the arrow fly. Through the darkness I watched it sail over 75 yards toward my target. This is an impossible distance by most archer's standards.
She turned, buckled and launched into the brush. A herd of over a dozen elk kicked up dust and ran for their lives. All went quiet, darkness fell and the earth went black in the moonless night.
To my amazement, I felt calm, cool and collected. Something came over me those final seconds as the arrow released. A confidence that arose from some otherworldly source took possession. The shot was mine, but it was not mine. It felt right despite the impossible circumstances of darkness and distance.
I returned to camp, built a big fire and stared into the blaze. I contemplated the shot. It was long, really long and nearly dark. I knew she was hit, but how hard? Should I wait until morning? If I bump into her still alive, she may run for hundreds of yards on pure adrenaline, never to be recovered.
But who knows? Maybe the shot was solid. Maybe I would walk up on a stone dead elk right at the scene. I gave her a solid two hours to die, drove back and began the search.
There was no blood trail, which would sadden many hunters. Not me. I was driven by that same confidence that made the shot. It was the darkest of nights. I could not even see my outstretched hand in front of me. I searched with a powerful flashlight that cut through the inky blackness.
I was not looking for tracks, blood or sign. I was looking for a dead elk. I found her not 100 yards from where she was hit. The life long gone from her motionless body. I made my offering, rejoiced and gave blessing to the elk spirit.
Upon examination, the arrow hit the elk a little back from the vitals but penetrated deep enough to cause a quick kill. If the elk had not turned in the final moments at the sound of my bow string, the arrow would have landed square in the heart. A pure bullseye at a distance most hunters do not even shoot in practice.
And that's why I hunt. It's not just adventure, challenge and meat I'm after. I come back because there is always an opportunity to touch that place where my own personal will dissolves in the expanse of something greater.
Outcomes and events take place that defy the logical mind and what seems realistically possible. When that magical something took hold, I believe it guided that arrow right to its mark.
I felt it. It was all heart.
And if you want to feel it too, come on a hunt with me. Together we'll enter the ancient and mythical realm so you too can experience a deeper sense of what it means to be alive.