Featured post

A Sure Sign of Spring

Welcome Robin Winsome Bluebird 733x1024 A Sure Sign of Spring

New Beginnings

 

March 20, 2013

The heavy hand of winter can be particularly punishing in the high Rocky Mountains of western Colorado. It is the meanest of seasons, often impossibly long and completely covered with a certain color of white for months on end. Living here at this time of year is all about ice and storm and driven snow, and when conditions are right it seems that there is no place that the bone chilling winds cannot touch. They are alive, animated with purpose and jagged edges, and always ready to reach out to let you know that there is nowhere to hide, nor escape.

At its worst it is possible to convince yourself that the steel-blue landscape laid bare before your eyes could never recover from such terrible, life threatening blows. The earth rolls and creaks with the dark numbness of the night, and carries on with the dull resignation of harsh reality. It is a timeless conflict between something old and cold, and the thawing breath of something new. Spring becomes a disjointed and haunting memory; a shimmering prize on the edges of raging conflict in a battle for the heavens.

Old man winter suffers no fools. Fail to give it the respect it demands, and it will kill you quick, without remorse. At the heart of the matter it remains a clearly defined struggle between life and death for us and for all the little things. Often it seems a most special and personal test, designed especially for you.

The trial is not only physical, but spiritual, and mental too. It is a measure of wills in a contest expertly developed to discover who will break first, left to lie down defeated and shivering upon the frozen ground.

Who knows how many less fortunate men have buckled before the indescribable hardship and despair of an unforgiving winter, and simply relaxed into the false glow of hypothermia and its inevitable outcome? It is a sad result to be sure, though perhaps an easy choice for some, held captive under unbearable circumstance.

It’s best to prevent things from getting to this point, and I prefer a brighter strategy. At times like these, I think of birds. And not just birds of any random kind, but bluebirds, and robins.

They are birds of the common folk, but these are not your average feathered creatures. Writers with much better words than I have spoken of them for centuries, trying to capture the magic and momentousness of their arrival. They are the proverbial harbingers of Spring, the dawn breakers, and the shining bringers of light. No other birds can offer such cheer to the lonely, windswept soul.

In this part of the country the calendar may say it is Spring long before it appears it is so, and this year has been no exception.  Typically, by now I am pacing about with one eye skyward, eager for a flash of blue or an unmistakable red. Turned to the south like the doting and overprotective parent, I anxiously search for the approach of the school bus now late for its’ scheduled stop. Things can get rough for the lover of birds.

It is no small wonder, this movement of life. No one can predict their arrival. They can not be tracked along their journey. Who knows what makes them head our way, or how long they dally at each stop. It is only for them to know, and they get here when they choose. This year it happened exactly on the first day of Spring, and it was the Bluebirds that graced us first.

I happened to be driving when I saw them, and as I turned a sharp corner on the first day of Spring on a back road as the sky exploded with dozens of fluttering bits of blue. It was if my world had changed in an instant, and I felt a great weight lift from my sloping shoulders.

Pulling quickly to the side to keep from crashing, I stared transfixed with wonder and joy and marveled at the colors in the early evening sky. It was a perfectly choreographed display of innocent beauty and it brought tears to my eyes.

What else can one do when delivered before such grandeur?

[Post in Progress]

Michael Patrick McCarty

————————————————————————————

“…Winter is no mere negation, no mere absence of summer; it is another and a positive presence, and between its ebbing and the slow, cautious in-flow of our northern spring there is a phase of earth emptiness, half real, perhaps, and half subjective. A day of rain, another bright week, and all earth will be filled with the tremor and the thrust of the new year’s new energies.”  —Harry Beston, The Outermost House

“This is one of the earliest birds to arrive in the spring; it is a question which we are likely to meet first, the Bluebird or the Robin, but not infrequently a flash of the cerulean color tells us the Bluebird has won in the race northward.” — Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, by F. Schuyler Mathews, 1904

“How the waiting countryside thrills with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring. Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of hope.” — WL Dawson, Birds of Ohio, 1903

*For more information and a great website about Bluebirds Click Here.

——————————————————————-

Update: March 4, 2014

I had my first bluebird sighting of the year today, a broad-shouldered male, and it happened in just about the same spot as it did last year but more than two weeks earlier on the calendar.

This male was as bold and blue a bird as I have ever seen, and was in fact a credit to all male bluebirds everywhere. He saw me coming and rose into a buffeting wind with that characteristic bluebird gait, hanging there in the magnificent universe for all the world to admire. I had no way to know that he was particularly interested in showing off to the lone female watching from the dead brown grass and tangled weeds nearby.

It warmed my blood to see him after so many months of bright white snow drifts and steel-gray, overcast skies. I am sure that she appreciated his display in ways I could never fully understand.

It was odd to see a male and female together so early in the season, and it was especially unusual for them to be the first birds of the year. I had always believed that the males arrived ahead of the females in order to establish dominance over other males and secure a territory to their liking.

Obviously, this is not always the case. Sometimes a male and female pair arrive on the breeding grounds at the same time, ready and willing. Still, it seemed a bit odd that they seemed to be the first and only birds to make it back so far, unlike the previous year when dozens of males all appeared almost overnight.

It’s been a strange year all around, with numerous storms and heavy snows which have built upon the ground since last November. The weather as a whole has seemed cranky and confused, with lingering low pressure systems and wild and violent mood swings. The signs were easy to read upon the birds.

A most obvious indication was the arrival of large flocks of robins in January, which seemed strange not only to me but to several of my friends who were quick to point it out. They were wild and agitated groups of birds, milling about restlessly while searching for a comfortable clime found most anywhere but here. One friend stared in amazement, as robin after robin appeared to attack the eves of his house, desperate to catch a drop of snow melt drizzling from his roof.

There is something quite unsettling about the sight of an obvious icon of Spring staring forlornly at deep snow and bare branches, puffed up bravely against the blustering gales. It’s an image not easily processed against what one has always known to be true.

Most of the robins have since managed to remain and survive until the snow banks receded and disappeared, though I know not how. It is true that not all robins migrate to the south, and that some do overwinter even in northern areas. There is also some evidence that more and more robins are migrating northward earlier in the year due to shifting weather patterns.

Yet the birds seem out of synch, as if their internal clock has wound too soon and their surroundings do not quite match their memories. No doubt we feel their distress on some undefined level, and like our feathered friends we can’t quite make sense of the changing world either.

But there is one thing is for sure. The bluebirds and robins have blessed us with their return journey, and stand ready to beat back whatever remains of the cold and dark times of winter.

I shall turn to the East and the rising star to celebrate the passing of another raw and soul cleansing season, while keeping one eye turned to the South for the telltale flash of blue, and red.

Featured post

“Through A Hunter’s Eyes” Goes Live

owleyes Through A Hunters Eyes Goes Live

A WAY TO SEE THE WORLD

Greetings From The High Rocky Mountains,

My name is Michael Patrick McCarty, and I wish to welcome you to our online sporting journal, and to our little window of the world. It holds a dazzling view that can change with the seasons and beckons us to roam as far as the eye can see.

Mine is an Irish name to be sure, and my family lineage also includes a healthy dose of old country Polish and American Indian ancestry.

Plainly said, my family history sports a long list of colorful characters; free thinkers and independent cusses who lived and made their livings’ close to the earth. Most of them were hunters and fishermen too.

I really can’t remember when I was not a hunter, because before I was one I wanted to be one. It’s in my blood and within my nature, and I can say without apology that I was surely born that way. It’s a good thing to know, as it is a simple fact that it is important to embrace the foundations of who you are and where you come from.

Most of all it can be said that I see everything through a hunter’s eyes.

It is not something that I can change, and I wouldn’t if I could . The fish and game animals that we pursue are great and wondrous gifts from the creator of all things, and should never be taken for granted. It is a privilege and an honor to follow their trail. To know that puts a certain spin on things.

These gifts I accept, and in so doing I owe a debt of gratitude which I plan to pay. Within this acceptance lies an opportunity to learn, to write and to teach, to give back, and wonder…and to see each other as part of something much bigger than ourselves.

I am hunter, and in that I am always exactly where I need to be, …be it near, or far, from home.

Thankfully, the place of the moment is often filled with wild fowl suspended in cloudless blue skies, or with broad-tailed fish below, hovering ghost-like amidst the rushing waters.

No doubt you can see them too. You’ve made it this far.

Enjoy!

Michael Patrick McCarty

THROUGH A HUNTER’S EYES:  A JOURNAL OF WILD GAME, FIGHTING FISH, AND GRAND PURSUIT

————————————————————————–

“Rich, ‘the Old Man said dreamily, ‘is not baying after what you can’t have. Rich is having the time to do what you want to do. Rich is a little whiskey to drink and some food to eat and a roof over your head and a fish pole and a boat and a gun and a dollar for a box of shells. Rich is not owing any money to anybody, and not spending what you haven’t got.”

Robert RuarkThe Old Man’s Boy Grows Older

Featured post

A Rocky Mountain Selfie

gusrainbow 1024x1024 A Rocky Mountain Selfie

The Best of Colors. Photograph by Gus Berg.

December 24, 2013

 

A young man’s passion warms the old man’s soul…

—————————————————————————————-

Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty

You Might Also Like A Nice Fish.

Featured post

Holy Waters

springpluselk 011 1024x768 Holy Waters

A Fine, Wet Miracle. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

December 23, 2013

For some time now I have made a special effort to drink only water that I have collected and hauled from a high country spring, and I have no plans to quit anytime soon. It is some distance from my house and it takes a bit of time out of an otherwise busy day, and it would be so much easier to turn on the municipal tap or crack a cap of bottled water.

Is it worth the trouble, you might ask?

Well, yes it is, as a matter of fact, and in more ways than you might guess, would be my answer…

Drawn deep from a primordial source, this water is wild and whole and tastes of mountain and ancient sunlight. It flows steady and true and offers a host of special properties quite hard to define. It is alive, and it feels good just to be around it. In fact, it is all about how it makes you feel, this living water…

It is not something I wish to take for granted. It is a sobering fact…

 

[article in progress]

—————————————————————————————-

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

springpluselk 020 1024x768 Holy Waters

Waters From Heaven, and Earth. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

Featured post

A Late Night Postcard

elksnow3 A Late Night Postcard

Rocky Mountain Neighbors

I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.

I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.

They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.

labradorinthesnow 206x300 A Late Night Postcard

What Lies Ahead…

My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.

We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hayfield below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North. To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hayfields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.

elkinthesnow 300x214 A Late Night Postcard

A Gift of Winter

We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.

At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our birdbath, and I wave and say hello. Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.

Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.

I don’t suppose I shall ever tire of seeing elk….

 

————————————————————————————-

Michael Patrick McCarty

You Might Also Like Sacred Ground

rockymountaindawn1 A Late Night Postcard

Moon Over The Mother Rockies

Featured post

A Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffer

springpluselk 041 e1387665618261 768x1024 A Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffer

Bringing in the Game. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

December 21, 2013

Just in Time For Christmas Dinner.

Oh Joy To The World!

—————————————————————————————

Food Freedom – and Wild Meat Too!

Michael Patrick McCarty

You Might Also Like The Way It Ought To Be

 

“The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information”. – Edward Abbey

Featured post

How It Ought To Be

elktracksnow How It Ought To Be

Follow Me

Today was a special day in my hunter’s world. It began like most Rocky Mountain winter days, but by evening I had acquired an elk for the freezer and two new hunting buddies.

Elk meat is a prized commodity in our household and one elk provides satisfying meals for many months. Hunting buddies, on the other hand…well, they are a gift of a lifetime. I am extremely fortunate to have several and I cherish them, but hey, I’m happy to add some others.

My new buddies just happen to be brothers, and like many good hunting companions they innocently possess unbridled enthusiasm, a refreshing ability to gaze upon everything around them as if for the first time, a natural wide eyed curiousity, and the willingness to do anything required of them to make for a successful outing. Of course, like most people they have their own unique personalities and levels of hunting skill. In this case, they happen to be smaller than most and have some trouble in deep snow or rough country. They are named MacKenzie and Connor, and they are six and eight years old. They already love elk and elk country. In fact, they live in some of the best elk habitat that Colorado has to offer. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

I have known these two since they were born, and I’ve known their father, Pat, for a quarter century or so. Pat and I have shared a lot of elk camps together, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for a lot of money, unless of course I could use it to go on more hunting trips with him. He is one of the finest hunters I know, and he is lucky to be blessed with a wife who understands his passion, and surely knows that she could not stop him anyway. Certainly it’s no wonder that “the boys” as we call them, take to the outdoors as naturally as elk bugle. Pat tells me that there was a time he could leave the house without them tugging at his coat tails, but he can’t really remember when that was. It’s just the way it should be, I say.

Call it a genetically inherited instinct, or say, a natural affinity for the wilds, these boys love the mountains and it is an uplifting thing to see. Pat has trained them right, of course, having brought them along whenever he could even when it meant carrying them. He’s patiently edured the myriad challenges presented by a partner who can’t tie his shoes or zipper his own jacket. He has always been the unwavering teacher in the face of emergency potty breaks, snarled fishing reels, and miscellaneous meltdowns. It’s just the way it ought to be, says he. I love and respect him more than ever for that.

Always happy to lend support over the years, I’ve done my share and have been quick to offer whatever advice a four year old can comprehend. Mostly, I’ve never missed an oportunity to ask them an important question. Something like, “Hey Boys! – I just want to know one thing – Are you going to pack my elk?. It became our personal joke and was always a great question to ask at parties, causing them to fly off with hysterical giggles and laughter and to repeat it to their young friends who do the same. It’s not often that you get a chance to train a group of small ones in the proper order of hunting priorities. After all, middle age now stares me squarely in the paunch, and frankly, I’m gonna need the help.

Today, we are wholeheartedly engaged in what can only be called a “meat hunt”. We know that there is a small herd of elk not far above the house, and it is late afternoon before everyone is gathered and we prepare to sneak up and over the ridge. The boys have geared up like old pros, which of course in many ways they are. They have watched a multitude of elk from their picture window, probably before they were interested in much else. They know the elk trails and the difference between a yearling and a big cow and where the herd is likely to run if they are spooked. Connor is next to me when we start off, and he does his best Indian imitation while pointing out tracks along the way. He shows me where he last saw the elk, and as we near the top of a small rise we see the oh so typical head up frontal view of a smart old cow. We’re busted, and I’m wheezing up through the oak brush and slippery rocks for position.

The first group of cows is moving and I wait, hoping for a better shot and about to lose my oportunity. Luckily, a mature cow is bringing up the rear. It’s not the easiest shot in the world, nor the toughest, but I’ve not been shooting well for a couple of seasons and and I take some extra time to draw a bead. I squeeze the trigger and she drops in her tracks. “Nice shot Mike”, I hear from my six year old guide. Sweet words to be sure when your luck has been a little off for a little too long, and out of the mouths of babes at that.

We stand around the downed animal and I am truly grateful. Pat heads off to help another member in our party, and I am left alone with the two boys and a beautiful sunset in a clear, cold December sky. The boy’s seem quite content to hunker down in the snow and watch, and help. I become aware of the fading sky and the mountain peaks over their shoulders and think that they are exactly where they want to be. They wear these mountains like a warm woolen blanket, and there is room underneath for me, and for us all.

I stand before the elk and bow to the four directions and give thanks, party because it is something I have come to do to show respect, and partly for effect, as I know they are watching. What are you doing, they ask? Why did you look in that direction first? It’s obviously time for me to answer some questions.

I decide to quarter the cow for easier handling, and when my knife comes out they really become interested. Something about boy’s and knives, I guess. “Why are you doing it that way, they say?”. Where did the bullet hit? How many teeth does it have? How old is it?. Mike, your elk tooth wedding ring is all bloody is it going to be O.K.?” And so on and so on.

I warn them several times to stay clear of my knife in case I slip, but they never miss an opportunity to touch or prod or examine in some way this elk. Their mother has sternly warned them to not ruin their cloths, and both their father and I reminded them more than once. For all the good it does. They want to be close, to smell its’ smell and lay their fingers on it’s teeth. Even in death, they want to become part of it’s life. These two are hunters, make no mistake, and I’m proud to be with them on this mountain at this moment in time when two young people chose to join us all in the adventure that we love.

They were quiet for awhile, and I was working to beat the darkness. I saw their heads come up and they smiled and looked at each other like they had a thought at the same time. “Hey Mike!, they say proudly. You know what?…we’re gonna pack your elk”.

I stare at them for a moment, and then clandestinely wipe a bit of moisture out of the corner of one eye. It is not an easy maneuver to perform with a heavy backstrap in one hand and a sharp blade in the other.

“That’s right, I say. I’m sure glad you guys are here”.

Just the way it ought to be, I think.

 

springpluselk 046 1024x768 How It Ought To Be

A Father Pitches In

Michael Patrick McCarty

Food Freedom – and Hunting Forever!

You Might Also Like Forever Humbled

Featured post

A Nice Fish

FishingStarwood 010 1024x768 A Nice Fish

A Rainbow Smile

November 1, 2013

Sometimes even a mediocre angler, like myself, lands a hook-jawed monster of the deep pools. The truth is I did battle with his bigger buddy too, but that is another story…

———————————————————————————————–

Food Freedom – and Sometimes You Send Them Back From Whence They Came! He waits for you, in the dreams of a fisherman.

Michael Patrick McCarty

You Might Also Like High, Long, and Lonesome…

mikestrout1 e1383516327330 1024x472 A Nice Fish

Ancient Eyes

FishingStarwood 015 1024x768 A Nice Fish

A Moment In The Net

Featured post

Cowboy Medicine

 

Cowboy Medicine 768x1024 Cowboy Medicine

Photograph by Frank M. Donofrio of Glenwood Springs Colorado

 

January 21, 2013

I am often struck by the power of photographs, and the way they can transport us in time and space, sometimes backwards to a place of fond memories, sometimes forward in anticipation of future adventures. I found such a picture tacked to the bulletin board of our local feed store, and I thought I would share it with you.

Exactly why it caught my attention so dramatically I do not know, but it stopped me in my tracks as I reached for the exit door. I stepped closer, and as I did it drew me deeper and deeper into that perfect recorded moment of experience. Perhaps it reminded me of a past hunt, with the excited chatter of friends or family nearby. Maybe you, like me, can imagine elk in the background and  just out of view, hanging on the edge of the timber on their way to cover or feed.  I can feel the crispness of the air there, and smell the smoke in the swirling winds. I can smell and taste the coffee too!

This wonderful image was captured by Mr. Frank M. Donofrio of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He calls it “Cowboy Medicine”, and he has been kind enough to let us reproduce it here. It is an unexpected comfort, and a gift for the eye of the restless soul.

Frank tells me that he snapped it a few years back, on a mid November elk hunt in the spectacular high country near Aspen. He says it was a cold, blustery day, and that in his hunter’s wanderings he happened to meet up with a woman in her later years and her middle-aged son. They told him that they had grown up nearby and were quite intimate with the country, having hunted it all of their lives. They were happy to share some of their hard won backcountry knowledge, and more.

The son offered to build a pot of coffee to help stave off the numbing chill, right there and right then. Frank gladly accepted. After all, the company was fine, and the view was pretty good too.

Apparently, the man liked coffee of the cowboy kind, brewed simple, black, and strong. The recipe is not complicated, but ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that it’s proper preparation is still a fine art, freely given, yet earned on a life of many trails.

Start with a healthy slug of water, freshly drawn from a sparkling mountain stream. Bring to a roaring boil over a fire of spruce and pine, and throw in a handful or three of coffee grounds as you back the hissing pot from the hottest part of the flames. Let it simmer down a bit, and then throw in a splash of water or two or maybe a fist-full of snow to cool it down. Take it from the fire and set it on the ground awhile to let the grounds settle, but not for too long.

It’s always best served piping hot, and there is something to be said for a dose of grounds in the mix. The old cowboys used to say that you could tell when it was right when you could stand up a spoon in it. It’s about texture too, and if you look real hard you can see them there, squinting past weathered brows while chewing on their coffee behind big handlebar mustaches. Or at least I would like to think so.

Now kick back and wrap your hands around a steaming mug of mountain medicine for warmth and moral support. Enjoy the ride. Savor the moment. It’s the doing of it that counts and where you are that matters.

That place be elk country, and there is no finer location on terra firma to drink a’ cup a’ Joe.

I wish to be somewhere just like this next fall, god willing, squatting behind a cowboy fire on a rugged ridge of the Rocky Mountains. There may even be some horses close by, nickering and pawing in the soft white powder.

We’ll keep an extra tin cup in the outfit, just for you. Hope to see you there!

 

*I have always heard references to the fact that the old-time ranch cooks would not think of forgetting to add a raw egg or some egg shells to a pot of their boiling brew. It turns out that this is true, as the egg or eggshell attracts sediment like a magnet and makes for a cleaner presentation.

Well, I have tried adding the eggshell, and it does work. For now I’ll withhold judgement as to whether this makes a difference in the taste, but it might. I haven’t tried the raw egg yet, but in the camps I generally inhabit a raw egg is a much too precious commodity to mix in my morning caffeine. But I don’t mind being wrong, and I shall try it sometime soon.

Of course if I do that will mean that I have shared another elk camp, and that would be more than fine.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it all works out.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

You Might Also Like A Late Night Postcard

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

cowboycoffee Cowboy Medicine

Coffee Up Boys!

Featured post

Forever Humbled

elkfighting1 Forever Humbled

Death Is Always A Possibility

“Obsessive pursuit finally led the bull of his dreams. Then something else took him over”.

There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.

I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.

He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.

I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.

Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.

I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters lightheaded. They made me lightheaded. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.

As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.

Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.

I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within  few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.

Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit past it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.

Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.

It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.

The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of anergy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.

They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.

They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.

When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.

I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.

I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.

His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.

For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.

The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.

I am, and will always be,  forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.

 

—”Michael Patrick McCarty, longtime bowhunter, buys and sells rare tomes and texts from his bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado”

Originally published in Bugle Magazine, May-June 1999.

You Might Also Like An Elk Hunter Looks At Fifty or How It Ought To Be

Featured post

The Gift

giftbuck The Gift

Ready or Not

January 18, 2012

The young whitetail buck bounds proudly into the field of newly planted winter wheat and stops, and I know that I must remember to take a breath. Just moments before it had magically appeared from the heavy shadows at field’s edge. I saw first its jet black nose, then it’s eyes, followed by searching ears, and horns. For some mysterious reason I had been staring intently at this very spot amidst the tangle of heavy vines, the bright green leaves of sassafras trees, and the yellow of remnant persimmon fruit hung on bare branches. It is as if I somehow knew that I would see a deer here this morning, and was simply waiting for its arrival. It’s a huge moment when you are thirteen. Why it’s as big as the world.

Just before daylight I had wedged myself into the crotch of an old, dead tree on the more open side of a small, protected field. It was more than cold with a biting, mid November wind, but the tree was big, protecting, with thick, comforting limbs radiating from its base. It was like a fort, and it was great fun just to sit there, hidden, listening. Morning in the eastern deer woods has a rhythm and cadence all its own. Once heard, it remains indelibly recorded on the heartbeat of your mind  I can still hear the stirrings of squirrels and small creatures in the dry leaves and forest duff below, the twittering birds, the scornful proclamations of Blue Jays and wandering crows above. I miss it so.

squirrelinthe duff The Gift

Perpetual Stirrings

I remember feeling that the buck knew I was there, would be there…watching. Perhaps he had seen a small, slow movement from me, or perhaps he just, …knew. Will he come? Even If he suspects nothing there is little reason for him to continue across an open field on a bright, sunny morning during gun season, with plenty of heavy cover in the trees of the wood lot behind and around him.

I wait. The buck hesitates for a brief time, an eternity, and then trots calmly and purposely along the edge of the trees towards me. I am paralyzed. Though mostly ready, I’ve not yet had time to assess the situation or remember my role in it. My feet are only about six feet from the ground, and I know that he will see me and swap ends quickly if I move too fast. Still, I feel that he knows I’m there and can not change his course, and can somehow see himself moving, thru my eyes, as he crosses in front of my stand.

It’s now or never, and in one motion I come from behind his track and start to swing my shotgun bead towards his shoulder. He stops as if on command, as if this is his part in the choreography of a primordial dance, and this is the selected spot to place his feet. His body is perfectly broadside, with his head turned towards me and up, his nose shining in the sky.

There is no sound, no mind, no time, just our breath frozen in the air as I settle behind the gun. He waits patiently, gracefully, and completely at peace with what is about to come his way. Both parties share something all-knowing yet incomprehensible, without judgement. It is agreed. We have done this before and may do so again, god willing.

I don’t remember pulling the trigger, yet It ends as it must if you are a hunter. A life taken. I am too young to comprehend the full meaning of the act, yet somehow I know there is something more. It is an end, perhaps a beginning, I do not know. The circle complete, we are bonded. It is a gift of the deer and it is sacred. I pray I will not forget, both then and now.

youngboywithshotgun The Gift

Coming My Way

You Might Also Like The Promise of Deer

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

Featured post

Sportsmen’s Recipes

babe ruth retires no 3 l Sportsmens Recipes

Babe Ruth – Athlete and Sportsman

Most everyone has heard of Babe Ruth. He may have been the most dominating baseball player of his time, and all time, and he is considered to be one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture. He was a living legend and his fame and persona completely transcended the game. I wish I had met him, or at least been able to watch him swing.

What is not as well-known is that “the Babe” loved to hunt and fish. It appears that baseball was indeed the perfect sport for a man of his appetites. For when his hands were empty of bats and gloves, they most often held a fishing rod, or his favorite shotgun. Babe loved his duck blinds, and the pursuit of feathered game. He liked to eat too, and he liked to cook what he acquired in the field. His favorite recipe could be a main camp meal, or a side dish to accompany his hunter’s reward. He called it “Wild Rice for Game“.

Or so notes, “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“, compiled by Jessie Marie Debooth. It’s a lovely and unpretentious little volume, a copy of which I have had in my personal collection for some years.

“The sportsmen of America have written this book, by contributing their favorite recipes for game, for fish, for birds. The recipes reflect the quality of mind and spirit that makes the true sportsman”.

Miss DeBooth goes on to dedicate the work “to the sportsmen and true conservationists of america, the conservationists of our natural resources of wild life, and the true protectors of the rightful heritage of future generations of americans, admiringly I dedicate this book of their favorite recipes, as cooked by them in their favorite outdoors”. I am certain that Mr. Ruth would agree.

His selection calls for 2 cups of wild rice, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water. “Put this into a double boiler after washing thoroughly, making sure that the water covers the top of the rice. Do not at any time stir the rice – always shake it. Allow to boil for twenty minutes, then drain off the water and continue to cook over a low flame for fifteen minutes, then add: 3 finely chopped onions, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sage, 1 teaspoon thyme. This recipe will make enough to serve six people”.

Ray Holland loved his waterfowl too, and our recipe book lists his hobby simply as “Duck Shooting”.  He grew up on waters teeming with waterfowl, and he shot his first duck with a muzzleloader shotgun in 1893 at the age of nine. For those in the know this is the equivalent of saying that Michael Jordan used to enjoy shooting a few flat-footed free throws in a pick up basketball game, and we all know how that turned out.

Mr. Holland was editor of Field and Stream magazine during its heyday in the 1920′s and 30′s, and an author of sporting classics like “Shotgunning in the Lowlands”. An ardent conservationist, his tireless efforts to protect this precious migratory resource is one of the reasons we still have ducks to hunt today.

His recipe for “Roast Wild Duck” is as follows: “Cut up together celery root, turnip, onion, parsley, carrot. Fry with a few slices of bacon in roasting pan until whole begins to brown. Upon this place the duck, thoroughly washed and salted, either larded with or covered by a strip of bacon. Baste, while roasting, with red wine. When done, pour cream over whole and allow it to become brown. Remove duck, mix in flour, allow to brown. Strain and serve sauce over sliced duck and dumplings”.

Zane Grey is mentioned here, as Zane Grey, author. His angling exploits are now regarded as somewhere beyond legendary, and really not possible today. He wasn’t a bad writer either.

Continue reading

You Didn’t Grow That!

Florida Couple Forced to Dig Up 17-Year Old Organic Garden

  • printer famfamfam You Didnt Grow That! youtube You Didnt Grow That! podcast You Didnt Grow That! pptv You Didnt Grow That! twitter You Didnt Grow That! facebook You Didnt Grow That! cart You Didnt Grow That!

Elizabeth Renter
Prison Planet.com
December 19, 2013

When we’ve lost the right to grow our own food, we’ve truly become subjects of the state. Lately it seems we’ve been hearing of more and more people being forced to dismantle their vegetable gardens in order to appease city ordinances or homeowner’s association rules. These same policies don’t ban things like pesticides, Christmas lights, or tacky lawn art—just edible landscaping. The most recent case comes to us from Florida, where a couple was forced to dig up a 17-year old organic garden.

191213garden You Didnt Grow That!

Image: Organic Garden (Wikimedia Commons).

Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll have gardened in their front yard for 17 years. Their back yard doesn’t receive enough sunlight. But recently, their community in Miami Shores decided to make such front yard gardens off-limits. That new rule was enacted in May and the couple had until August to remove their vegetables or face fines. Other towns threaten with jail time for growing produce in the front yard.

While Real Farmacy reports the couple dug up the garden after appearing twice in front of the Code Enforcement Board and facing $50 each day the garden remained, there are also reports that they have filed a lawsuit targeted at overturning the zoning regulation that made their garden a battleground.

With the help of the Institute of Justice’s National Food Freedom Initiative, the couple is arguing that the ordinance violates the states Constitution by stopping them from exercising their right to “acquire, possess, and protect” their property.

“The right to grow and harvest your own food on your very own property is certainly part of that right to acquire, possess, and protect property,” said Ari Bargill, attorney for the Institute.

Their prospects don’t look good, however, in light of a similar legal battle in which Florida’s state courts upheld a zoning regulation in Coral Gables that banned homeowners from parking pickups in their driveways, an asinine law that was eventually overturned.

Zoning ordinances, the laws frequently used to hassle front-yard gardeners, are most often enforced selectively, only after someone complains. They are easy to violate when you aren’t familiar with them, and if someone takes offense to you growing crops in your front yard, you too could face fines or uprooting.

If you are contacted by the city where you live to uproot your garden or face consequences, get loud:

 

  • Contact local elected officials

 

  • Show up at city council or county board meetings to complain

 

  • Contact local media

 

  • Get local gardening, environmental, and other grassroots organizations involved

 

 

Or, you could gather the townsfolk to transform the community’s landscape into a giant food-producing edible garden like one England town has done.

Barring people from growing their own food is unconscionable, particularly in these times when what is offered on store shelves is such a far cry from real food.

This post originally appeared at Natural Society

————————————————————————-

Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty