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Why do you like it so much? - by Joe Sanders


Rob DiStefano:
People Still Ask Me; Why Do You Like It So Much?

Joe Sanders
Oct. 20, 1987

   Every year when the weather changes, the leaves turn color, and the wind starts blowing from the north with a chill, bow hunters like myself go through a sort of metamorphosis.  It can be likened to and directly related to the change elk go through during the rut.  Facial hair starts sprouting, questions on the job are answered quickly, if for no other reason than to get the work-a-day world out of the way, and the negative balance in the checkbook doesn’t seem as important.  The necessities of life change from; Food, Clothing & Shelter, to; Licenses and Tags, Piecing Equipment Together, Sharp Broadheads and Practicing Your Elk Bugle to perfection.  Which by the way is somewhere just short of divorce.  It’s time to go.  The camper is loaded, the check lists are completed, so you give the wife a hug, a peck on the lips and you’re off.
Picking up your hunting partner only amounts to about an hour delay, but no matter, you have an entire week.  Returning home to pick up your longbow usually only amounts to a 20 to 30 minute delay.  No big deal, unless your wife is sitting on the porch, with longbow in hand, and a “Get Your Act Together” look on her face.
After 4 to 5 hours driving time you’re finally there. The country is something to behold.  The mountains high, the valleys deep and nothing but trees.  No people to answer to.  No job related stress.  No busy traffic with hazardous lane changes. NO LIGHTS.  You have your camper all loaded and ready to live in but you decide to stay in tents instead.  That will give you the opportunity to listen to a pack of coyotes on the next ridge howling at the moon, and most importantly, listen to the elk bugling in canyons below.  And that’s the reason you’re there.
The first afternoon is spent with a little preliminary scouting.  Walking the ridge tops, bugling into the canyons, and getting some response.  The hair on the back of your neck bristles and your blood runs faster.  And you realize that isn’t another bowhunter talking back to you in elk talk.  You and your partner are the only people there.
The first night is a restless night.  No matter that the tent is pitched on a slope, or that the sleeping bag affords more padding against the rocks and roots that the pad under it.  It’s the excitement of what’s going to happen the next morning that has your eye glued open, and it’s making it hard to sleep.  The moon is full and the forest filled with night shadows.  Every little noise outside the paper thin walls of your tent is in your mind. It seems like there’s a 1000 pound, 7 point, ivory tipped bull elk standing in camp, challenging you to come out and fight.  

The next morning at 5:00 A.M. the rapid fire ringing of your alarm clock sounds off.  You’ve been waiting all night long for that sound, and in an instant response, your hand swings across your body and smothers the clock into the floor of the tent.  You realize you have nearly turned your alarm clock off to death, and decide to be more careful the next morning.  You discover rolling out of the sack is no easy task.  There is no right or wrong side of the bed to get out of when during the night, you’ve managed to roll to the low side of the tent and gotten yourself wedged into a corner with the zipper to your sleeping bag wadded up directly under you.  After a few stretching exercises to work out the aches and pains, and get  you muscles warmed up, you gulp down 1 or 2 cups of coffee and a bowl of instant oatmeal.  “IT’S TIME.”  You’ve waited a year for this very moment and “IT’S TIME.”  
The sky is starting to show some signs of light.  The trees have turned fro black to a dull shade of green.  You’ve got grease paint on your face, ears, and hands and the wind is perfect.  You’ve decided to work your way down the ridge top skirting the treeline, while your hunting partner goes right down the throat of the spring fed draw.  Eight hundred feet down in elevation there is a BATTLE ROYAL about to happen and you wonder if the elk know it.  About half way down you can hear bulls bugling and grunting so your pace quickens.  Making noise while moving around from place to place doesn’t seem to bother elk during the rut, so you use that to your advantage.  You can change location rapidly as long as you stay out of sight and downwind.  You start to hear the cows mewing now and realize you worked your way right into the middle of a small harem.  You hear a bull about 200 yards below you bugle and grunt, and another about 200 yards above responds.  You decide it’s time for you to join in, so with a small prayer that you don’t choke on your first bugle in earnest, you let her rip.  “Sounds pretty good” you think to yourself, until the herd bull about 60 below let his rip.  WOW!  Your bugle sounds pretty meek.  His starts with a kind of high pitched windy whistle and ends with a very raspy grunt.  It lasts about 5 seconds and is louder that a locomotive.  The inside of his throat must be a foot in diameter, and he must have the lung capacity of a 55 gallon oil drum.  The dust under foot rises off the ground about 6-8 inches and all the trees shake off their lose bark.  You try to imitate his bugle and you’ve it you best shot.  It comes out pretty good.  It must have because that big bruiser starts tearing back and forth below you just out of sight.  He’s ripping up the ground, brush, and any pieces of timber that get in the way.  Then silence.  It’s so quiet you can almost hear the trees grow. You take up a stand with ample shooting lanes.  You have good cover yet can survey all around you.  Two hundred yards in some directions and thirty yard in others.  You decide to bugle again and the response is silence.  So you wait it out. You’re listening for any kind of noise. A twig snap, a hoof click on a rock, nothing.  After about 30 minutes you bugle again and the response again is silence.  You decide to move up the draw.  You’re following a game trail that is so active that the game department should have painted a yellow stripe up the middle.  You move about 100 yards up the draw and stand and listen.  You’ve stood there motionless for about 5 minutes and the silence is deafening.  All at once, about 30 yards up the trail and upwind, concealed behind a line of trees, what sounds like a buffalo stampede commences.  Fearing you’ll be run over, you duck behind a tree and wonder if somehow you have managed to spook a deer.  The answer is a resounding NO.  A spooked deer doesn’t move out with the grace and agility of a rock slide.  For a good 5 minutes you listen to the sound of crashing timber and thundering hooves moving up a neighboring draw.  You’ve somehow spooked them good.  The elk herd and you both realize there will be no getting close to them now.  Not wanting to push them into the next county, you decide to return to camp.  
Man, you’ve got a climb ahead of you now.  But in the words of a friend and hunting partner, “If you endeavor to persevere, you’ll make short work of it.”   Over deadfalls and up rock slides you climb. Up, up, you climb.  You try to keep in mind, “If you gain an inch, don’t give it up.”  That’s easy enough to say, but if you’re balanced precariously on a rock that is hell bent for downhill, it’s tough to endeavor to persevere.  About this time you figure it would be worth it if you could trade a good tooth for a flat spot to rest.  When you find one you break for lunch and the ghost like memory of that big bruiser’s bugle haunts your mind.  A smile comes over your face as you survey all that stretches out below you and you realize it was a successful hunt.  Without ever seeing an elk, you just came as close as possible to scoring on one of North America’s most beautiful and majestic game animals.
So, people still ask me; “Why do you like it so much?”  At the risk of sounding pompous, and I don’t mean to, my answer has to be;  “If you have to ask me, I can’t explain it to you.”  

Something to think about:

If you pack it in, pack it out. America is a beautiful country.

The only ugliness is what we as can do to the wilderness.  

Tell yourself every time you leave camp to go hunting;  “I’ll pick up one piece of someone else’s trash along with all of mine.”  Can you imagine what the wilderness would look like in just 10 years if everyone made that pledge?

Good hunting to you, for all the right reasons.


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