Washington Backcountry and The Soulful Hunter Podcast know first hand how hunting has the power to transform lives through primal adventure. It is the driving force behind our mission and now it’s time to celebrate the success and share the stories. In this series you will get a first hand look into the lives that have been impacted by what hunting has to offer. It is something that is rarely shared or talked about and through the vulnerability of our guests, we hope that you find inspiration for your own transformation.
the Soulful Series | CHAPTER 6
Written by Rob Keating
The Beginning of a lifestyle
As I sit here looking forward to the 2020 season, it’s hard not to think back on my past and the way hunting seemed to fade in and out, always there but seemingly never more than an afterthought. As suddenly as it came, it was gone with no fanfare for its arrival and nothing to mark the passing of another season gone. Hunting was simply something to pass the time for a single weekend in late November.
I remember as a young boy watching my dad as he gathered his gear. He had a small duffle bag with a pair of wool socks and gloves, a handful of outer layers of clothing, some wool army surplus pants to pull over his blue jeans, and a sheep lined red plaid jacket. A leather satchel that housed all of his equipment for his trusty Hawkins Muzzleloader, with nothing more than basics consisting of bullets, a few charges of smokeless powder, patches and caps.
As September closes in, and the mornings start the get the unmistakable crisp bite, I know that I will once again have a chance to test myself against the elements, the beasts that I pursue, and most of all challenge myself. Taking in the experiences from the last hunt and building on the never-ending quest to push the limits that I hold myself to. From out of state hunts, to day-hunts with friends, and even the occasional backcountry solo hunt are all adventures that hold their own challenge and I welcome every one of them.
I was not raised in what I would call a hunting family and only went on a single hunt when I was younger. I was 12 years old when my dad had finally convinced my mom that my brother and I were old enough to join him in the elk woods. We didn’t know what to expect and was an all-new experience for the two of us.
The week leading up to the hunt I packed, unpacked, and repacked a half dozen times until I had “the perfect setup”. I finally settled on full-body long johns, a pair of black soccer warmups to go over my jeans and my trusty Chicago Bulls Starter jacket. This was going to be an epic hunt and I could not be more excited. Finally the day was here and we just had to make it through the obligatory day of house cleaning, the big family Thanksgiving dinner that seemed to never end, and then we would be free to pursue the elusive spike elk.
Before we crossed the mountain pass, we pulled in to a truck stop restaurant. I was a little confused because we had just finished dinner, but I was just happy to be there so I rolled with the punches and assumed there was a plan in place. As we walked in I saw two of my dad’s long time friends who were like uncles to me. They were sitting in a booth, calmly content to sip their coffee and exchange stories of times past. Seamlessly switching topics about the last week at work to reminiscing about hunts in past years. I quietly sat, sipped my hot cocoa and tried to soak up as much information as I could. Before long the five of us were back on the road.
Early the next morning my brother and I were nudged awake. With a small campfire, warm drinks and oatmeal waiting for us, it was obvious that the adults had been up for a while scheming and optimistically telling each other how the days adventures would play out. We were to split into three teams. I would be with my dad for the first day of hunting.
We said our goodbyes and headed off into the snow-covered trees with the moonlight to show us the way. As we made it to the top of a ridge, down the backside and crested the next, I was starting to work up an idea of what hunting really was in my own 12-year-old mind. It was tough hiking with the small crust of ice covering the knee-deep snow. There was no way to move quietly. With me constantly cracking pistachio shells as we walked, my dad decided to switch up tactics for the day and find a spot to sit and watch. Over the next several hours we sat catching up on things in our lives and plans for the future. Casually glancing over the neighboring ridges and moving periodically to warm up before finding the next spot to sit.
For our second, and last full day of hunting we switched teams and I set out with my dad’s old friend for a day in the lower elevations, working the valleys and draws for elk that were seeking shelter from the cold winter weather. Less ice and snow made for an easier day of walking. The day seemed to be shaping up just like before with cold temperatures, hiking and no elk to be seen. Suddenly my uncle froze. Motioned for me to stop. It was as if the entire forest was frozen in a state of suspense. He quickly looked over his equipment and pulled back the hammer on his rifle, exposing the percussion cap. All I could think of was a loud boom and an explosion of celebration. I was then motioned to move forward next to him as he pointed his finger through a small window in the crossing tree branches. I was in awe of what I saw. Long brown fur covered legs, a shaggy chest and neck with a large set of antlers sitting atop the head. It was the most regal looking animal I had ever seen in person. Confused as to why we are watching this beast and not taking aim and pulling the trigger I turned and asked if he was going to shoot. A smirking smile flashed to me and he calmly replied “he’s not what we’re here for, but to see him is a treat worth making the trip”.
We worked our way back to camp, making it to the fire well before dark. Stories of the day’s adventures began to flow as freely as the coffee out of the old percolator. I shared my experience of seeing what I later found out was a beautiful specimen of a mule deer buck. Following my story was that of my dad and brother. They ended up getting into a small group of cow elk and squeezing off a shot that was estimated at 180-200 yards with his open sights. In the rush of adrenaline and the panic of missing the first shot, he mistakenly loaded a double charge of powder for a second shot that was never taken. The campfire quickly turned to laughter and speculation on how to best unload the rifle and how bad it would have hurt to shoulder and fire that second shot.
Driving home without an animal can never match the level of enthusiasm as you have heading into your camp ahead of the hunt. But for me, looking back on the trip twenty-two years removed, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still go back to those hills today. Getting lost for weeks at a time. As I think about the hunt when I was a boy and how that planted a seed deep down inside my being, I now have a foundation to build on and an experience that I will always cherish.
Rob Keating | Instagram – @broadhead_rob_
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