It’s what all western hunters dream of. In this day and age, an email brings the anticipation, hoping for the word of all words for us lottery hunters. It’s opening that long-awaited message. It’s logging in to check results. It’s looking, with bated breath, hoping for the word, or a small green bar among a sea of red.
Honestly, I sure don’t feel like I’m successful. Why am I so anxious? Shouldn’t I be shouting at the top of my lungs, expressing my joy, amazement, shock, and all the other emotions that are tied to elation? Rather, why am I stunned, stoic, anxious, nervous; thinking, now what?
Excitement swirls with a deep-seated, stomach-aching anxiety. Now what? Maybe I am alone in this feeling, but somehow I don’t think so. I would hazard a bet that when a lot of western hunters, especially new ones who have only a few hunts under their belts, see the green bar of success, often feel a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and “Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?”
If the hunting community were polled, I would guess that many hunters have likely been here. Those western hunting professionals that we all want to be started somewhere. Even if it was under the tutelage of their parents or grandparents, there was likely a moment in their hunting succession when they had to venture out by themselves and undertake something slightly more daunting than those hunts that have come before. Those now-seasoned professionals are still seeking that initial now what? feeling. It’s just morphed. Season after season, they raise the bar to reclaim that initial excitement.
The thread that connects the hunting family is a gradient of now what?
A green, successful bid on a public land DIY antelope hunt in Wyoming will ignite a cauldron of emotions in someone who has never done it. This may seem like a trivial hunt for a seasoned veteran, yet it is a daunting mountain of unknowns for someone who has never done it. However, as one moves along that gradient of now what, that experienced western hunter extends to higher, loftier goals. It’s akin to the addicts that need to continually up their dosage as their body adapts to the repeated highs. Every new hunt fuels a new level of addiction; of need. The body, mind, and soul desires a deeper response. This need leads us to new hunts—greater hunts, as our hunting goals evolve from DIY antelope tags in Wyoming, to elk and mule deer in wilderness areas of Idaho, to a mountain goat tag, or Alaskan moose, or Kodiak grizzly. I might even hypothesize that this may be the feeling that we are all after. It’s a rush of adrenaline that is sustained through the build-up and then the duration of the hunt. It’s the addiction to the unknown challenge that drives us all.
This hypothesis is likely seated in our desire to explore; to do things a little differently. I would venture that all hunters, at some point in the evolution of their being, really started to test their desires—and enjoy it. This testing can come in many forms. Weather and climate extremes, or the ability to cope or survive. Exotic species can be located, researched, identified, and tracked, highlighting much more than the average run-of-the-mill whitetail hunter. There must be a reason for the evolution of a hunter as they move from rifleman to bowhunter, and then sometimes even to traditional or primitive archer. There is a sequence of growth that is likely correlated with an unknown outcome. We are seeking a journey that is filled with new experiences, preparations, thoughts, and explorations. This unknown is directly tied to the concept of the now what.
The now what drives our preparation of weaponry and our understanding of location, including climate, geography, and charismatic mega-fauna. It drives the need for and form of training. It leads to the draining of bank accounts to purchase the gear necessary for the respective terrains. It directs our nutritional shift to extremes, depending on the adventure embarked upon.
The now what is seated within me. Right now. Right this minute. What led me to this moment was an innate desire for that. I needed to experience life, to be a part of something that rarely registers on most folks’ to-do lists. It was listening to something that is a part of my DNA, placed there by generations of past hunters who did what I am seeking. But their need was different than mine. Theirs was driven by a need for survival. They needed to hunt to live, to eat, to feed families.
I consider myself a member of the hunting family; I’ve just been away for some time. My ancestors hunted for survival in the far-flung reaches of the world, including northern Manchuria, the Siberian taiga, and the African savanna in Mozambique. I was raised on stories, saw trophies on the wall, sat up late at night on my bed in Mozambique, reading those stories and drifting into their experiences, visualizing the sights and sounds, but unfortunately I never got to experience it. Until now.
A green bar. Successful. Barbary sheep in New Mexico.