I felt the droplets of cold-water wipe on my face and quickly make their way through my blue jeans. The brush grew thicker until I saw a small old skid road. I traveled what was left of the gravel and came to a crossroads. Were they still to my left? Or was I too late in cutting them off? I finally heard a snap in the brush to my left and began making my way through the grass next to the gravel. They were bulldozers of the mammal kind and all I could hear was their movement and my heartbeat. I tried to catch my breath to no avail and scanned the brush hoping for a glimpse of black movement. I was so focused that I hadn’t realized a set of eyes were watching me. With my head still turned towards the dense brush, I anxiously shifted my eyes to meet theirs. I raised my rifle to confirm what I already knew. Cow. In the process of lowering my rifle she began trotting straight towards me. I squared up when her gate quickened, and to my relief she exited the old skid on the opposite side, leaving only puffs of slowly evaporating steam behind.
I looked back down the road to find the rock that was situated where she stepped out. There was a giant hoof next to it. I immediately gulped, raised my rifle, and saw the large, wide, golden horns through my scope. I put my crosshairs on his engine room and looked over both shoulders. Where was my dad? I was alone.
I refocused and simultaneously pushed the safety forward and pulled the trigger.
My 30-06 went off in my hands. He did not move. I missed him clean.
I was 17 years old when I read the words “Bull Moose” and found, “Selected,” on the right side of the computer screen. I questioned my recognition and understanding of the English language and yelled down to my father to confirm. He skipped steps on his way up the stairs, and upon his agreeance we celebrated. He confirmed that I was indeed selected, we celebrated, and did as any sportsman would do; called our buddies to tell them the good news.
“My Grandma use to say, one good turn deserves another,” said my father as we wound, zigged and zagged through the forested mountains. We traveled 6 hours east, near Spokane, Washington. Hunting, and adventure in general has long satisfied my nomadic heart, new places, new ground, new species and scenery; it is the light at the end of the mundane tunnel, and the very kindling in my soul.
We arrived at Bear Creek Lodge (Mead, WA) and was greeted by a man with the body of a grizzly bear and a warm, infectious smile. His name was Sam. He and his wife owned and tended after the historic lodge. My brother and his two roommates made the trek from the University of Idaho joined us shorty after our check-in. We ate dinner and (they) drank within the bar of the lodge. “Learning to Fly,” by Tom Petty echoed from the jukebox when we left the bar to turn in.
I couldn’t sleep, and shivered beneath the quilt. The anticipation of the hunt kept my thoughts unbridled. I must have fallen asleep for a spell, because I kept hearing engines roar up the mountain. I quickly woke my dad up saying “WE HAVE TO GO! THEY’RE BEATING US UP THERE!” Little did I know, majority of the cars I heard weren’t hunters, but instead ski lodge employees.
The first day of our hunt we spotted a bull with one horn. We ran up to a vantage point to get a better look at him. “Bullwinkle,” my dad said. By the end of the day, we had passed two hunters with downed bulls. As happy as I was for their success, I couldn’t help but wonder when fate would throw me a bone.
“Well, we’ve put our time in, Hannah,” my dad reassured.
He was right. And on the following day, I was sleepy, and resituated in the passenger seat when my dad hollered, “There’s your bull, Hannah!” I bailed out of the moving truck and ran into the brush after him, only to realize he’d have to be mere feet away for me to see him. We went farther up the road and I separated from my companions.
It was the second shot immediately following the first, that claimed my bull moose. He immediately crouched over, walked to the other side of the trail, and toppled over. I heard the crunch of footsteps in the snow and turned to see my brother and his friends running towards me. It is only on the rarest of occasion that my brother offers me hugs; and to my delight harvesting an animal has always been one of them. Moments later, I yell out to my father, “Dad I got him!” My voice cracking on the last word. He too was by my side within seconds and embraced me in his arms while his hunter orange vest soaked up the happy tears overflowing from my eyes.
After the several rounds of photographs we began dressing the animal. I felt endlessly grateful to my hunting partners for their help and above all—strength! I had long dreamt of experiencing a moment where time stood still. I looked up at the sky and felt the small, frozen snowflakes melt upon my face. There was a warmth in the air that I cannot describe. Although I was feet away from the bull, it seemed like I could still feel the heat from his massive body. I felt the dedication and hard work of my family and friends, and the ignited burner next to me. The ecstatic vision came to an abrupt end upon grabbing the pot’s aluminum handle without gloves on. We enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate and reminisced on what transpired as if it were an already fading memory. I was not tired though I should have been. We said our goodbyes to Sam and his wife, my brother and his friends. My dad’s truck wound back down the mountain, and I ran my fingers over the small scrapes on my hands, my blood mixed with his. I was lost in a world of fulfillment and gratitude.
A decade has passed and still there is a receipt for 476lbs of meat, two empty 30-06 shells, photos, and a stack of paperwork issued to me from Washington’s Fish and Game. All items that have yet to gather dust over the years. My bull moose became a shoulder mount; I will wait to take my moose with me until I have the wall space or area to display him on. Until then, he rests next to my father’s Canadian moose, proudly overlooking our dining room table within the room we congregate in during holidays and special occasions.
As hunters we often try to define why we love it; why we pour money, time, and effort into something that has us tramping around the wild with our most necessary and cherished belongings hanging off our bodies. Time and time we fail to explain what just is. Why, and how is it that we can recall our hunts as if they occurred yesterday, but could not tell you what we did last week? It’s our passion to feel like the free, deliberate beings we were designed to be, which is why we seek refuge in the wild and away from the soul-sucking monotonous activities. It is when we are in nature that we find our God-given purposes, and decipher through our unique existential beliefs.
I am no more, no less, but equal to the animal’s whose blood I’ve spilled. We live in a society that has begun to point fingers at circuses, zoo’s, and aquatic centers that displace animals from their natural habitats. Those animals didn’t ask for cages, just as I didn’t ask for a desk.
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