From the creation of Chase The Mountain it has been my intention to share stories of other hunters. Stories of overcoming challenges, obstacles, literally pursuing and chasing a dream. Stories that would motivate and inspire others not only to dream but actually Chase Their Mountain. – A.C.
By Liz Lynch –
probably the closest I ever got to a career in driving cattle
To really tell the story of my “Chase,” I need to follow some advice from Alice in Wonderland (a pretty apropos comparison to my journey, I think): begin at the beginning.
Somewhere around age three, I had a cowboy phase. Nobody really knows what started it, and nobody is entirely sure if it ever really ended. My parents indulged my taste for Laredo boots, fringed suede vests, and the smell of horses as best they could. Equally confusing was my seemingly unending need to be outside, covered in dirt and bug bites, as often as possible.
It didn’t occur to me, of course, that northern suburban New Jersey isn’t an ideal place to nurture dreams of riding through sagebrush with a lasso, or hiking up a snow-capped peak for a few days. I was blessed to have supportive parents who encouraged me to spend time outside often, even though canoeing and starting fires without matches wasn’t really their shtick… or any other relatives’ shtick, for that matter.
Both sides of my family are made up mostly of residents of the suburban northeast, stretching back a couple generations. Mostly Democrats. Mostly not huge fans of the outdoors. Definitely not fans of firearms.
For many years, I had a standard East Coast academic, liberal mindset, too, which was shaped by my privileged life. The world wasn’t just my oyster: I had half-dozen fresh oysters served up with a silver spoon.
I was an only child living in a safe suburb an hour outside NYC. I went to a private high school, then an excellent private university (with a left-leaning student body) near Boston. I was a vegetarian and a pacifist, mostly. Guns were bad, cutting down trees was bad, killing animals was bad, diesel trucks were bad. And that was that.
A Change of Heart(s)
The first time those views were really challenged was my senior year of college when one of my best friends and I decided to WWOOF (working on an organic farm in exchange for lodging and food, among other benefits) on a chicken farm an hour outside of Austin, Texas. The urban demand for local, organic options allowed a community of small-scale farmers and ranchers to flourish there.
The prospect of dealing with chickens, start to finish, didn’t seem so bad. I’d done a summer internship “shadowing” in a Medical Examiner’s office; let’s just say I was basically immune to it all. So the work was rewarding, and our hostess was – and is – amazing. Hard to complain when you zip around on a four-wheeler all day feeding peas and grains to happy animals.
It quickly occurred to me that, as far as food habits go, eating locally and organically was a lot better than my lazy, processed, sort-of-vegetarian diet. It brought people together, it kept families and towns afloat, it made a healthy and nutrient-rich diet possible without draining my bank account, and it didn’t do as much damage to the earth as, say, a bag of Lay’s potato chips. And, it turned out, it was all delicious. Meat included.
With Montana, it is Love
I doubt anyone who knew me well was surprised when I moved to Missoula, Montana, three years ago. The University of Montana was my top choice for an M.A. program, but the location was also a huge part of the appeal. The mountains and textbooks were calling, and I had to go.
Before grad school, I worked as a field archaeologist for federal and non-profit places. My first job, up in far Northern California – the State of Jefferson, if you will – got me hooked on working on public lands, and exposed me to a very different way of living.
I left Boston less than a month after graduating college and found myself in an 800-person town surrounded by mule deer and people who hunted them. For the next two years, I continued to bounce around to work in a few similar places, and my curiosity about hunting continued to grow.
I knew I wanted to hunt before moving to Montana but had no idea where to begin. The price was prohibitive as a non-resident whose only camo clothing was a baseball cap from Walmart. I listened in on my housemates talking about it, and sampled their elk heart and smoked pheasant. My Napoleonic complex kicked in, and I wanted to be the one harvesting my own meals out of the woods. I wanted to confidently tote around a rifle and fear nothing – except for maybe Grizzlies. And moose. And cats. And bad water. I needed more. But how?
A Steep Learning Curve
The “how?” didn’t take long to answer. I met my boyfriend two years ago, a native Montanan born and raised surrounded by the Cabinet Mountains, and a longtime USFS employee who seemed to thrive in the woods even more than I did. Both of his parents have a deep-seated love of all things Montana. In particular, his dad’s appreciation of and dedication to wilderness and wildlife conservation shines through in both his amazing photography and his sons’ passions: one, a hunter; the other, a fly fisher.
With saintly amounts of patience and a bottomless wellspring of enthusiasm, my better half has taught me virtually everything I know about hunting, both hard skills and ethics. He got me a pair of waders for my 24th birthday so I could duck hunt with him; the next year, he got me a 7mm-08 for my 25th. 24 was a late start, but I couldn’t be happier I asked him to teach me. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage or know-how to get into any kind of hunting on my own.
Flinching less and aiming well are perks, but I feel the luckiest for being taught to do everything in my power not to cause an animal any unnecessary suffering, learn to love sub-zero mornings in a blind and long hikes, and focus on a shot I can be proud of before getting caught up in Boone and Crockett scores.
Adam’s recent post really captured a lot of my current feelings towards hunting ethics and media images, especially as someone who still grapples with their left-wing tendencies and confused friends and family back east.
I’ve heard the Montanan attitude towards public lands and waters here described as a “birthright,” and it’s absolutely true. People here love their public lands beyond measure, and hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, and conservation are at the core of nearly everyone’s values, political stance regardless.
Now, at times, as a resident but a non-native, I feel a little guilty for bristling at the sale of “trophy estates” to outsiders and bragging about how beautiful and productive our natural resources are. I get a stroke of “imposter syndrome” when I scoff at ridiculous or irresponsible hunting shows with my far more experienced hunting friends. When you see it all for yourself, though, it’s hard to not jump on the bandwagon.
the author and her boyfriend, the real MVP, with a canvasback. Outside of Choteau, MT, late 2015.
If you had asked me ten years ago whether I thought I’d be excitedly planning a hunt for elk or mule deer, the answer would’ve been a resounding “no,” probably with a flippant teenage “ugh, gross” thrown in. If you had asked me twenty years ago, though, the answer probably would’ve been “yes.” In a way, peering through a scope looking for animals browsing on mountainsides feels like a reaffirmation of my love of the outdoors and the drive to be more self-sufficient that have been with me almost my whole life.
I struggle still with some aspects of hunting: for example, personally, I’ll never trap or hunt omnivores or predators. I’m teasing out why, exactly, certain things make me uneasy, but I acknowledge their importance and appeal to others. They’ve been a part of Montana far longer than I have. As a USFS employee, I’m also torn on how I feel about certain forest and wildlife management strategies, and I butt heads about how to handle wolves, bison, and beetle-killed trees.
But there aren’t any doubts in my mind about hunting when I look at the European mount of my little 2-by-2, my first whitetail, harvested last season. I remember taking one shot at 30 yards, and watching him drop no more than 10 yards from there. I had plenty of help with moving and processing, and now I can enjoy my whitetail steaks, hotdogs, and salami any time I want. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The goose sausages, elk jerky, venison burger, and mallard breasts in our chest freezer are trophies enough for me. The sunrises and landscapes I’ve gotten to see – and will be seeing more of this season, and hopefully for many seasons to come – are irreplaceable and invaluable, both for me and for anyone else hunting on public lands here. I can’t imagine not hunting anymore. The values it encompasses for me and the joy and satisfaction it brings are now a big, important part of my life.
It turns out guns are okay (when used safely and legally), cutting down trees is okay (sometimes), killing animals is okay (only for food and if it’s done responsibly), and diesel trucks aren’t so bad. And that’s that.