The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

Montana Tales & Trails: For some, Elk Hunting is like religion

Bless me father for I have sinned. My last elk hunt was several years ago.

In Montana, elk hunting is akin to religion. You don't have to be a true believer, but a day spent chasing elk, following tracks in the snow, or even sitting in the woods and watching the natural world unfold can be as beautiful as time spent in a cathedral.

Why, then, would someone renounce that? Good question.

This is not to belittle anyone's beliefs in an afterlife, a Creator or sacred writings. Rather it is a plea to understand the person who puts time, effort and money into a pursuit in which approximately three out of four people come up short each year. Fall short of bringing home elk meat, that is.

No one who goes forth in search of elk is a failure no matter what he or she brings home. Like prayer, the effort alone can be fulfilling, character building.

About 110,000 people hunt elk in Montana, according to the most recent figures. Those hunters took home close to 28,000 elk. That from a state in which the elk population continues to increase, creeping closer and closer to 200,000 going into the fall hunting season.

The economics of hunting is easy to understand. Recent studies show that elk, deer and antelope hunters combined spent an estimated $324 million in Montana. That money supports more than 3,300 jobs.

Harder to grasp is the strength and depth of an elk hunter's passion, though indications exist from backcountry camps to urbanites visiting farm and ranch country.

Then again, some folks don't understand the need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca or Lourdes.

To each their own.

What I do know is the magic, the pull, the attraction of elk hunting.

Elk generally live in beautiful, often remote areas. As wary animals, elk respond to hunting pressure by heading to the most inaccessible country available to them.

It can be difficult, challenging even, to get to those spots and because elk are typically herd animals, tough to sneak up on so many eyes.

Success sometimes comes from just finding them, counting coup.

The opposite of success might be guilt from realizing that several years have passed without even trying to hunt when no serious obstacles exist.

Pursuit of said elk species is usually not easy and no one in this corner of the Universe is getting any younger. Each year the mountains grow taller, the backpack seems heavier, the muscles ache more.

In a blink, Social Security kicks in, 60 years have disappeared from the rearview mirror and that television sure has lots of channels. All true, but poor excuses.

Look stuff happens: Life, debt, relatives, divorce, illness, laughter, tears.

In Montana, fall and hunting offer rebirth, redemption, a baptism in nature. Is it too strong, then, to say that to give up elk hunting for no good reason is apostasy?

If so, it's time to say an act of contrition, then go forth to hunt. Salvation is at hand.

 

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