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 Three: “Elk Hunt Eve”
Go to Part Two of This Series
As I write this, my third blog entry, it’s Elk Hunt Eve. For months now I’ve been preparing to embark on my first hunt. My rifle is sighted in and my bags are packed. I’ve included everything that was on my original list and then some. I’m not overly superstitious, but I am not going to try to predict any outcomes for you. What happens during the next week is a mystery that will be revealed to me soon enough. In the meantime, I’d like to share a few of my pre-trip experiences and some final thoughts before I leave.
I mentioned in my first post that I grew up target shooting with my dad. Dad passed away in 2005 and it is his .308 I’m taking with me tomorrow. I had to have a little work done to the gun including replacing the scope but I think he would approve. On one of my trips to the shooting range I asked my 11-year-old daughter if she wanted to join me and was pleased that she was excited to come along. At the range she watched and listened as I told her what I was doing and after some trepidation, she took a few shots of her own with a .22 single shot I brought along. If a photo montage immediately posted to Instagram is any indication (and for those without a tween in the house – it is), she was happy with her performance. My feelings regarding guns are complex and just as personal as the next person’s, but at each step of the way I couldn’t help but think about hot summer days in Kansas with my dad and how proud I am to be creating some of those very same memories with my own kids now.
I suppose I expected some family bonding to occur (I think my son would smuggle himself into my luggage if he thought it would actually work), but the pervasiveness of the hunting culture has been somewhat surprising. I stopped in a Vitamin Shoppe to pick up some powdered electrolytes and mumbled something about going on my first hunting trip to the college-aged employee, who looked to me like a character straight out of an episode of Portlandia. He immediately responded with a story of a 20-mile, 2-day hike in Cherokee State Wildlife Area hunting mule deer with his brother. He wanted to know where I was going and what I was hunting. As he rung me up he told me how much I would enjoy my trip and that it was sure to make a lasting impression. On another day I stopped in a local sewing store to see about getting my wool pants let out a little. As we discussed the fact that an extra inch would cost more than the pants did to begin with, the elderly seamstress with a hard-to-place European accent exclaimed, “You’re going hunting, not visiting! If you smile at me right I’ll give you a good piece of elastic that should work.” I got the distinct feeling she had uttered those very words before. Finally, just this last weekend at a neighborhood gathering I listened intently as a neighbor of mine, who as it turns out has also just recently dipped his toes into the hunting world, described his third season rifle hunt. He saw lots of elk and even got a shot off but missed due to the element of surprise, an unexpected adrenaline rush and an unsupported standing shot. I made a mental note to relax and sit down if I get the chance.
Look, I work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. I know there are plenty of hunters out there but until I committed to going, I couldn’t see the trees for the forest if you will (yes I’m using that metaphor in reverse). I was sure I could pick a hunter out of the crowd, but I’m not sure that is true anymore and frankly that realization makes me happy.
My final observation is not unique to hunting but worth mentioning. When I signed up for this I knew I was going to be out of my comfort zone. As it turns out, that has not been a bad thing. I feel young for trying something new; for having to research and learn like my life depended on it. OK, that may be a little melodramatic, but I will be carrying a loaded firearm in a foot of snow at 9,000 feet above sea level, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m also aware of my age because I can appreciate the subtle things in each part of this adventure. Everything from the pleasure of mixing up the best batch of gorp I’ve ever tasted to my apprehension of being alone with my thoughts for hours at a time. Getting out of my comfort zone is a reminder that life has much to offer and today I’m more at ease with my decision to go hunting than I have been. Wish me luck on the hunt, but honestly I think I’m already a lucky guy.