The other day I walked out on the front porch to carry in some firewood, and heard a cow elk bark. I looked across the road and saw a small herd of about a dozen elk standing there in the sagebrush looking at me. They were no more than a hundred yards away from my house. As I watched them, I choked up. I don't know why. I see elk pretty much every day of the year along the highway in our valley. But the mystery here is the unexplainable fact that my brain switched from being in awe at their majesty to thinking about where I'd be applying for my cow elk tags this fall.
Or when I'm sitting on a high ridge in September hunting elk, on a frosty morning amidst the splendor of yellow aspens, and see a flock of geese in V formation winging south. My eyes tear up at the moment, at the beauty of the birds. But a few minutes later, I find myself thinking if I need to buy more goose decoys for the upcoming hunt later on.
How does this happen? How can we admire a wild animal one minute and look forward to taking its life the next? How can we experience two such diametrically opposed emotions in practically the same moment?
I've tried to explain this complex attitude, but there really are no words to describe those feelings. If you're a hunter, you understand. If you're not a hunter, you probably won't. Jose Ortega Y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, tried to explain this mystery in his book, Meditations On Hunting. This excellent work discussed the subject thoroughly, with an emphasis on ethics, but his words still don't fully describe the emotion, at least in my mind. I don't think anyone can. You have to feel it deeply in your soul, that only a hunter can.
And just what is a hunter? The dictionary will define the word, but Gasset has an interesting explanation. He says, "one does not hunt to kill, but one must have killed in order to have hunted."
There are many reasons why we hunt. All of us can contribute to that statement and cite personal reasons. But I submit no one can address the mystery of wiping a tear from your eye when you gaze and admire an animal and then taking its life later on. I surely can't.