After spending 5 days immersed in the Colorado mountains chasing elk, we embarked upon one final adventure. Today would be our last chance to shoot one of these majestic animals and the next 16 hours of hunting would put our physical stamina and mental fortitude to the ultimate test. If we were successful, we would be returning home with enough meat to feed our friends and family for the next year.
To help alleviate the pressure, I kept reminding myself that regardless of today's outcome, I would be leaving the woods with a lifetime of memories, stories, and inspiration. Not to mention a beautiful elk rack that I found in the woods a few days ago.
Like previous days, the morning was full of close calls and vanishing elk. Today, however, our acclimation to the ecosystem had peaked and we had become better at listening to our instinct. Previous days we had entered the woods with the mentality of being a predator, however today, we started thinking like an elk. The animals that we had been chasing for the last 5 days had shown us their patterns, preferences, and habits. It is such an amazing feeling to connect physically and spiritually with the animal we are hunting. This ancient bond between predator and prey activated my own deeply encoded genetics. This genetic triggering created a feeling of presence and holism unlike anything I have yet to feel. It was crystal clear to me that I was participating in something very special and transformative. I saw my own existence as merely a microcosm embedded in something much greater and more powerful.
After 12 persistent hours, Kirk found his elk. It was a beautiful mature female around the age of 8 years. She was healthy, fat, and one of the largest animals we had seen. Kirk was able to close a 150 yard gap to get within 40 yards of the destined creature. There, he pulled back his bow string for the first time in 5 days and landed a perfect shot that hit both lungs. The large elk stood still as if it were slightly confused. Startled, yet remaining calm, she instinctually knew something was different in her immediate environment. She took four steps forward and dropped to the earth.
We sat still and waited 30 minutes before approaching the elk. This is a critical step to ensure the animal dies peacefully. It also allows the hunter to become introspective and reflect on the present moment. My immediate gut reaction was a conflicting sadness mixed with joy. We had ended the life of a healthy large mammal and that comes with a heavy sense of responsibility. Being mindful and present in this moment was very special. It overwhelmed my heart with gratefulness and a desire to honor the elk.
Within an hour of the fatal shot, there were thousands of flies surrounding the animal. Mother nature had began the process of decomposing. In order to honor the entire animal, we worked relentlessly and with the haste of rejuvenated spirits. Within an hour we had quartered out the entire elk and started transporting the meat back to camp. I took 5 trips through the woods, walking alone with over 90 pounds of elk on my back. The work was grueling, but I experienced a new surge of adrenaline inspired by making sure we packed out every usable piece of the animal. This flow state was very meditative and spiritual. At the end of the day we packed out over 700 pounds of organ meat, muscle meat, fat, bones, and hide.
When we returned to camp, we quickly put the animal inside the EPIC van and transported it to a local butcher in nearby Kremmling, Colorado. The hardworking folks at the Troublesome Meat Co. burned the midnight oil and pulled a near all-nighter converting our quartered out elk into beautiful individually portioned ready to eat cuts!
Experiencing this level of traceability with my food was absolutely profound. A once in a lifetime hunt to harvest adventure in which every time I eat our elk, I know without a trace of doubt how the animal lived, died, and was processed. Each step was consistent with my own values as well as our innate evolutionary hunting instincts. Respect, honor, and gratitude towards nature was practiced during every moment of our hunt. For me, this experience has been the most transformative vehicle to connecting with my food. The elk that gave its life to feed us not only satiates my hunger, but also my soul. Through my journey I am able to practice what I preach and be consistent with the founding principles of EPIC Provisions; "Feed others as you wish to be fed" has never meant more to me and now comes with a deeper holistic understanding of food, nature, and my own place in this beautiful world.