Got your elk yet?


Got your elk yet? It's a far more complex question than it appears. In one breath, it asks, "Are we friends?" "Do you approve of firearms?" "Do we share an ideology?" and, naturally, "Do you want to hear about me getting my elk?" Even more significantly, the question assumes that if you live in the West, you must hunt. Right?

I don't hunt though I have hunted -- birds and varmints and deer, mostly -- but I never really caught the itch. Why not? Simple. I have plenty of food, and I'd rather do a lot of other things like biking, hiking or skiing during hunting season. I don't have anything against hunters, and I strongly encourage my hunting friends to share their success with me; it's tough to beat a grilled elk tenderloin.

But back to the question. I can't figure out why I keep being asked about "my" elk. The question's not offensive, but it bothers me. It assumes that I do hunt; moreover, it suggests that I should hunt, if in fact I don't already. Now, why should those things be assumed and suggested, and why are people asking me this question in the first place? What's the big deal with hunting?

For one thing, I've never figured out what makes it a sport. Whenever I've gone, it's been a matter of stumbling across an animal, pulling the trigger and causing the animal to cease to exist. End of story. There's no Hemingwayesque battle between man and nature because the advantage seems to be all on our side. There's no beauty of the kill and no real "sport," just a dead animal. It's kind of exciting, sure, but we humans have a fantastically large brain, opposable thumbs and weapons that can hurl a piece of highly engineered, searing-hot lead several hundred yards accurately and consistently. What's so sporting about going head to head with an animal so dumb that it will leap in front of your truck?

I realize not everyone hunts with a rifle. I have the utmost respect for bow hunters, though with compound bows and razor-sharp broadhead tips, arrows suddenly start to resemble funny-shaped bullets when it comes to killing efficiency. Shouldn't we be hunting with spears, or slingshots or something more primitive, if the goal is to keep it sporting? I met a man once who hunts 300-pound tusked boars in Arkansas with a two-foot-long dagger. He jumps on their backs from trees, Rambo-style. Now, that's hunting.

At one time, in order to eat meat, we had to hunt and kill an animal. It was an honorable task that put food on the table. But the minute people began paying mortgage-like sums of money to fly to another state, hire a guide and finally execute an elk, goat, sheep or other Western big game "trophy," the legitimacy of subsistence hunting went out the window -- particularly if what's hunted is a farmed elk that's within a fenced enclosure.

Few of us these days have to hunt for food, and I find it irksome when people claim to hunt for subsistence. It's far more expensive to buy weapons, go hunting and process the meat into frozen and wrapped cuts than it is to buy a T-bone at the grocer. So hunting an animal isn't about providing one's family with food, at least not entirely.

That leaves cultural tradition. Hunting and fishing (and of course, the Second Amendment!) are almost as ingrained in the Western psyche as the fear of wolves and distaste for government. And that's part of what makes the West so great: We like to be outside, and to be left the hell alone; sidearm optional.

I don't have a problem with that, and now that I've thought it through a bit, I don't think I really have much of a problem with being asked about getting my elk. At its heart, the question comes down to the same cultural tradition that makes the mountain West what it is, at least in the places that haven't been "Front Ranged" yet.

It's the same tradition that supports our publicly owned land and water rights and increasingly taut environmental management to protect those rights. It's the same tradition that wants government to keep its distance and supports personal freedom as well as personal responsibility. The Western cultural tradition -- hunting included -- is pretty special. I'd rather be a part of that tradition, even as a ski-bumming sideliner, than not at all. Especially since this particular tradition comes with tasty meat dishes and friends who like to share.

"Got your elk yet?"

Drew Pogge is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is the editor of Backcountry Magazine and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the dreaded Front Range.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Got your elk?
Larry Thornton
Larry Thornton
Oct 13, 2009 09:59 AM
I like your article. I have pretty much given up hunting myself. I agree with you, that there isn't much sport in it. I do enjoy going trying to shoot a dove or quail every now and then.
What I find fascinating, is the social aspect of "hunting camp". Living in Idaho, I had friends that would drive 10 miles from home into the mountains and set up an elaborate camp with wall tents, wood stoves, cots and plenty of whiskey. The camp would grow throughout the hunting season. Myself, I would go hunting and go home and sleep in my own bed every night. I have never hunted with a "team" and don't understand the concept.
The biggest challenge I ever found was getting drawn.
I wouldn't say that I had to hunt for meat, but it sure saved me a lot of cash instead of buying it. I cut, ground and wrapped my own meat so I saved a ton on my grocery bills. One elk will more than pay for the equipment to do this, but you have to be willing to put in the time.
Got your elk yet?
Brandon  Hoffner
Brandon Hoffner
Oct 13, 2009 07:47 PM
I know where the elk came from and how it was taken care of. Buying local beef or pork can also address this, but it is nice to feel self sufficient. Plus it is tasty.
Got Your Elk
Oct 14, 2009 09:47 AM
Enjoyed the perspective.

I have not got my elk yet and it is not from lack of trying. I have hiked 70 miles with my recurve, seen elk, moose, antelope and wolves. All good. The reason I get out there. Yes, I can buy my meat at a store (though I do not know how that animal was raised and treated) but then that is a detached way of acquiring food, a guiltless way for many, but different than our most of our biological history. Going to the butcher takes away from the reality that something always dies to feed us. Even when I eat soybeans I remember the millions of acres of wildlife habitat destroyed (along with the wildlife) to grow those crops. We all have blood on our hands, even if Safeway replaces the woods for most. I feel good taking responsiblity for where my family's food comes from and how I respected the quarry and thanked it for feeding me.

So, when I am asked "Got Your Elk Yet?" and say not yet, but I am out there trying. Might be another venison only year.
the obvious truth
Oct 14, 2009 10:47 AM
I'm female and have lived in the heart of elk country for 2 decades after moving from the big city. Hunting is not about securing food or engaging in "sport". What no one talks about with hunting is something that is incredibly obvious to me: it is all about sex. The obsession with size, the long piercing objects-arrows or rifles- and even the language with words like scoring, taking, and flesh are in common to both. I almost dare not mention the violence. Its is almost exculisively a guy thing. Hunters are about 90% men while hikers, backpackers and even bird watchers are about 50-50 each gender. And as with sex, we see all the insecurities some men have with it. What bothers me most is that the animals are the hapless victims of human egos.
Got your elk yet?
Eric Rush
Eric Rush
Oct 16, 2009 08:51 AM
Esthetics and philosophy aside, hunting is the only practical way to control populations of elk and most other game animals, now that we've killed off most large predators. Bringing back wolves will help keep numbers down, but, if I were an elk, I think I'd rather be shot with bullet or arrow than have my belly ripped out by wolves.

As for why we hunt, and why "we" are mostly male, it's the way we survived until we adopted agriculture only a few thousand years ago. Men hunted (and scavenged) in groups; women stayed home and took care of kids and cavework.

Most informal playground games are about hunting: tag, fox and geese, dodge ball, hide and seek. Boys play cowboys and Indians; girls play house. Hunting, and homemaking, are in our genetic makeups.

Hunting is not about sex, Meadow. It may be the other way around.
Gender specific hunting
Bob Albano
Bob Albano
Oct 18, 2009 04:36 PM
I hunt elk, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is to provide excellent table fare for my family. My wife and daughter have often helped with the retrieval of the carcass. Maybe I have a Freudian connection with my muzzleloader, whatever.

My daughter completed hunter education and bird hunts with our hunting dogs and I, and enjoys it. She has not decided to hunt big game yet, and I will not pressure her to do so.
Nov 20, 2009 05:17 PM
Meadow: Whatever you're smoking, I want some!!! I hunt, and it has nothing to do with anything you mention. Spoken like an ultra feminist I guess.
Real meat
Nathan Rice
Nathan Rice
Oct 24, 2009 04:01 PM
I'm not a hunter, but have been drawn recently to re-connecting with the food that I eat, not only to put real, healthy, wild food on the table, but to know what it really means to kill and eat meat. Though the industrial meat market supplies copious amounts of food to the masses, any half-aware consumer must swallow their conscience to eat the stuff, considering animal abuse, the waste stream, and chemical additives. I'd much rather have wolves controlling the elk population, but well-managed hunting seems like a valuable way to remember where our food comes from and reconnect with the food chain (while enjoying a real steak).
Emily Jencso
Emily Jencso
Nov 04, 2009 02:08 PM
I forwarded this article to my brother...hunting has long been a source of contention between us. I having only hunted once, while working in Alaska in the backcountry and the moose was for subsitence and have been a vegetarian for the past 5 years. We were raised to live off the land by a waterman in Maryland who instilled a love of nature in both of us. Here is what my brother had to say...
 He begins the article with the statement "I don't hunt though I have hunted -- birds and varmints and deer, mostly -- but I never really caught the itch." Note here that his article pertains to ELK! He goes on to say that "I've never figured out what makes it a sport. Whenever I've gone, it's been a matter of stumbling across an animal, pulling the trigger and causing the animal to cease to exist. End of story.
Ok moron. Thats because you have never hunted elk! If he had he would have hiked over 10+ miles, up down and all around the steepest mountains, through timber that you can barely fit your shoulders through, and in freezing conditions. If he was lucky enough to track an elk down and kill it, which takes considerable skill, he would then have to pack out over 300+ pounds of meat on his back (no ski lifts in the area, ya know). I don't know a harder and more involved sport. End of story.