CPW Field Journal
When it comes to outdoors expertise, no one understands Colorado’s fishery and wildlife resources better than Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s diverse staff of wildlife managers, park rangers and biologists. For these dedicated individuals, working for CPW is not just an occupation but a way of life. When they’re not enforcing fish and game laws, patrolling state lands or conducting fish and wildlife research, most CPW employees are avid sportsmen and women who spend their leisure time hunting and angling throughout the state. Here, CPW staff share their personal stories and experiences, provide on-the-ground field updates and offer a unique, “inside” perspective on all things hunting and fishing in Colorado.
In this special, multipart series of CPW field Journal, Chris Johnson, GIS analyst for CPW, shares his experiences and thoughts as a first-time hunter. Johnson is part of a growing trend of adults, known as “Adult-Onset Hunters,” who are taking up hunting as a midlife pursuit.
Part One: “Walter Mitty and Illusions of a European Elk-Mount”
I’m going elk hunting for the first time this year. Actually, let me clarify: I’m going hunting for the first time this year. Am I excited? Well, yes and no. I’m certainly in a state of increased activity and agitation, but I wouldn’t say I’m eager, per se. To be completely honest, I’m resigned to my decision and am hopeful that I can pull it off.
In order to fully appreciate my situation, I think a little background is in order: My name is Chris Johnson. I’m 44 years old and have spent the last 15 years working as a GIS analyst for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City and have been a city dweller my entire life. Both of my folks were born on a farm, though, and as a kid, I spent many summer weekends in the country. In fact, if it weren’t for my dad’s polio, I might have been raised on the farm too. Although my dad couldn’t hunt as an adult because of his illness, he maintained an interest in guns and taught me how to target-shoot cans on our family property. For a city kid, I also spent a fair amount of time camping, thanks to a very supportive Boy Scout Troop. Of course, this was back when Flock of Seagulls was a serious band. And I sometimes humor myself thinking that these boyhood outdoor-skills are still with me today.
Additionally, I wasn’t blessed with a natural desire to exercise — much to the consternation of my school PE instructors, my wife, and even myself. Throughout the years, gym memberships have come and gone (if you know what I mean). Don’t get me wrong, I like to ride my bike, hike with the family and ski. But that hardly translates into buying elk tags, right?
Despite these barriers, it seemed wrong to me (on a number of levels) that I have never had a real, visceral connection to my food. After all, I was only one generation removed from our family farm. I’m also a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, and I have occasionally pondered what skill set I could contribute so that I wouldn’t end up on the losing end of a new power structure (sounds crazy I know, but don’t judge me!). Computer skills are a great way to make a living now, but what about when the lights go out? I began to think that I should be able to at least provide food for myself and my loved ones.
So, with all of these thoughts planted securely in the back of my mind, I was chatting with a fellow CPW employee this spring who also happens to work part-time as a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness. I asked him how his muzzleloader hunt had gone the previous fall and, before I knew it, he shared a story that left me green with envy. In fact, when he spoke, I could almost smell the pine needles underfoot as he described a pre-dawn trek through dense woods. I felt a rush of adrenaline as he described a big bull elk stepping out of an aspen grove and crossing an open meadow. And I virtually held my breath as he conveyed calling the bull closer and closer so he could take a shot. Completely engrossed, I actually envisioned myself raising the gun and taking aim at the bull (I know, I know: Slow down Walter Mitty). Needless to say, I was inspired after hearing his story and I applied for a preference point for elk. I knew it would probably take at least three years for me to draw a muzzleloader tag, which gave me plenty of time to chicken out (or so I thought).
Two weeks later, word of my courageous intentions had spread to other coworkers, and they asked me if I wanted to fill a spot for a fourth-season rifle hunt. Still under the romantic illusions of hanging a European elk-mount in my entryway, I figured getting a little experience prior to my muzzleloader hunt couldn’t hurt. I purchased a leftover tag for that game management unit.
So, I’m hunting elk in Colorado’s high country for the first time this fall. Without a doubt, it’s sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a roller coaster of emotions, as I learn and plan between now and my actual hunt in November. I’m still not sure whether my coworkers invited me simply for their own amusement or if this was a genuine attempt to help and encourage “Adult Onset Hunters” such as myself. Either way, I have decided to record my thoughts throughout this adventure. Stay tuned for future posts!