Tag Archives: Recreation

Autopsy of a Self-Guided, Public Land Elk Hunt…a first-timer’s perspective.

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The author with his father, center, and their friend and elk-hunting mentor, Dan.

My first foray into elk hunting has come to an end, having arrived home at 5:30am Saturday morning.  Given only a week to explore the Medicine Bow National Forest in south-central Wyoming, I feel I was able to get the most I could out of the opportunity and I’m left with one simple reflection.  I’m hooked.

I’m hooked on the adventure of chasing an animal the size of a horse through the most rugged terrain I’ve ever experienced while hunting.  Hooked on the adrenaline felt at hearing the screaming bugle of a bull elk shake the forest from less than 20 yards away.  Hooked at how quickly the mountains can turn the highest of highs to the deepest low.  In a word…hooked.

I’ve been planning, on some level, this hunt for years.  Ever since my grandfather first mentioned an interest in heading west to chase elk (he never made it), my father and I have talked about a trip of our own.  Determined not to let “someday” end the same way it did for my grandfather, I undertook the responsibility of planning our first elk adventure.

Site selection, applications, equipment (including a few purchases), personal training and practice, packing, hunting techniques, lessons learned, and everything it took to make the trip a success will be discussed in the next few posts.  Stay tuned.

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The author’s father glasses for elk along the Sandstone Creek basin.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Lucy, the author's GSP

Lucy, the author’s GSP

 

Last month, I had a tough decision to make.  It’s one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching decisions a pet owner ever has to make.  When to say “goodbye.”  Honestly, it’s taken me until today to gather the courage to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys for that matter).

A little perspective.  I know Lucy was “only a dog.” I have lost both friends and family in my short 35 years, and realize the devastation left in the wake of their passing.  My focus is not on the pain felt in my decision, but to celebrate the amazing dog that was my best friend, hunting buddy, and “first born.”

Lucy was my first dog.  I grew up with dogs, but she was the first one that was my own.  My graduation present upon finishing my B.S. in wildlife biology from Michigan State University, she was there for the beginning of my career in wildlife advocacy, buying my first home, marrying the love of my life, and the birth of both my children.

My first true “gun dog,” I did what any wannabe dog trainer would do after bringing home a new puppy;  I read all the books, watched as many videos as I could, and then promptly forgot it all.  I tinkered here and there with different methodologies, vacillating between pointing and flushing/retriever skills, never really deciding if I had the German Shorthaired Pointer her pedigree told me she was or the Labrador Retrievers I had grown up chasing through the woods.

As I muddled through her first few months of training, a clear goal began to emerge.  The dog I was searching for wasn’t a four-legged Rambo, it was a dog that trusted me and that I could trust.  Her instincts were amazing, I didn’t need to (and couldn’t hope to) train her on “how” to hunt birds, I just had to get us to the point that we both knew our role in the field and let each of us do our respective jobs.

To that end, we began our training anew.  Tennis balls replaced training dummies, and thousands of sticks were thrown into area lakes and rivers.  Long hikes were taken and her spot on the couch was firmly established.  What developed was a relationship, one between dog and man, as friends.  She wasn’t a tool, she was a hunting buddy.

After marriage, a move to the city, and children arrived, we began to spend less time in the woods.  Times change, and so did we.  Lucy transitioned into a city dog and dutifully protected our back yard and home from squirrels and other invaders.  But she was always ready to shake the rust off and take to the woods when opportunity presented itself.

Last year, after noticing how long it was taking Lucy to recover from a round of fetch or short runs through the field, I decided it was time to retire her from hunting.  It was a tough decision, and it hurt to see the look on her face when I would suit up Dillon (her younger “brother”) for hunting, knowing she wouldn’t be going along.  She was going deaf and having trouble keeping up with the younger dogs.  I wouldn’t have minded moving slower to accommodate, but an inability to hear commands in the woods was more than a mere inconvenience.

Lucy’s last year was filled with love, long naps in warm, comfy beds, and a seemingly endless joy of fetching tennis balls, even as her body slowly gave out on her.  Her last day was spent in my office, curled up in front of the fireplace, kicking wildly as she dreamed about flushing pheasants or grouse exploding from the aspen.

In the end, Lucy will always be remembered as my first dog, and my (and my son’s) best friend.

Forever, Logan’s “Lucy girl.”

Goodbye.

Lucy quickly adopted our first son, Logan, as her own

Lucy quickly adopted our first son, Logan, as her own (early 2010)

Out for a hike

Out for a hike (2012)

Lucy, her younger "brother" Dillon, and the author after one of her last pheasant hunts

Lucy, her younger “brother” Dillon, and the author after one of her last pheasant hunts (2014)

For OUR Future…Take a Kid Hunting

Author's son with a successfully harvested doe he helped track

Author’s son with a successfully harvested doe he helped track

This year’s Deer hunting season is nearing its end, having sent the largest army in the free-world into the woods across the Midwest.  While our numbers are staggering, they belie a greater problem; our numbers are also stagnating, and have actually seen a downward trend over the past 30 years.  Part of the problem is that we’re recruiting less hunters, and keeping even fewer (see what Michigan is facing here).

This year will mark the first year I wasn’t able to get to my family’s hunting camp for opening day in nearly 20 years.  A remarkable run considering that period includes high-school, college, marriage and children; but its passing has me reminiscing on my beginnings in the tradition of hunting.

My passion for everything out-of-doors can be traced back to my parents and grandparents and their willingness to include me in their passion for the great outdoors.  Learning how to track a rabbit, cast a fly, or field-dress a successfully harvested deer can’t be learned from a book.  My parents and grandparents both instilled my outdoor ethic as well as nurtured it by continually getting my outdoors with them.

My earliest hunting memory is of me sitting on my grandfather’s lap in his hunting blind.  I had a bag of chips, a coke, and a handful of other things that would never find their way into a normal hunter’s blind.  At the time, I was too young to officially hunt, but it didn’t matter.  I was “hunting” with grandpa.  I don’t remember ever seeing anything on my hunts with grandpa…but that wasn’t the point.  Yes, he had his trusty 30-06 (which has since been handed down to me) with him, but he knew that his mission that day wasn’t to harvest a deer; it was to bring the next generation of hunters into the family.

My grandfather hasn’t been to camp for a number of years now…but his tradition lives on in my father and me, and my mission couldn’t be clearer; to pass OUR tradition on.  It is this mission that I implore my fellow hunters/outdoorsmen/conservationists joins me in.

As hunters/conservationists and stewards of OUR natural resources, it is our duty to not only protect those resources, but the outdoor heritage that has been passed down to us from previous generations.  Take a kid hunting, invite your friends, neighbors, and others new to the out-of-doors into the field and introduce them to what drives each and every one of us…the protection of both our natural resources and outdoor recreation heritage.

More information on getting kids and others into the hunting can be found at:

Michigan DNR Mentored Youth Hunting Program

Wisconsin Mentored Hunting Program

Minnesota Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program

Pheasants Forever Ringnecks Program

Michigan United Conservation Clubs Youth Outreach