A hunter’s success is often measured in simple terms. A spent bullet casing, a set of antlers or horns and bringing home a cooler full of meat. Yet, I find these things are no longer enough for me. The game meals come and go and trophies gather dust on the wall, waiting to be remembered the next time a buddy drops in for a whiskey. But there’s something else more powerful in these experiences, a deep emotional connection to the hunt that lies beneath the surface.
I didn’t always feel this way, but as I grow and go through seasons in life, the calling that drives me to hunt has evolved. Hunting has taken me to places I never imagined I would see and it has given me connections with life that I never thought I would have. Breaking flatbread with locals who didn’t speak a word of English left a more lasting impact than many hunting experiences that came before that. I came to realize that the truly deep, meaningful experiences I find in hunting had nothing to do with the kill but rather the adventure and the camaraderie that hunting can provide.
After spending 20 years of my life cooking in professional kitchens, it's hard not to see the world through a culinary lens. For reasons lost to me now, I used to leave the culinary side of things at home when I would go into the mountains. I would to rush to the trailhead, hunt, and rush home. I rarely stopped to soak it in. Over the last couple years that’s changed, completely.
Last spring, plans started to fall into place to hunt Sitka blacktail deer on a far-flung archipelago that sits some 80 miles off the coast of British Columbia with three friends. Although the islands look similar to the thousands that pepper the B.C. coast, there is magic in Haida Gwaii — ask anyone who has been. Our target was deer but what I wanted more than anything was an experience rooted deep in the location we would hunt. I wanted to suck the marrow out of this hunting trip.
The memories I now seek to make on my hunts are ones that will linger fondly when I am grey and grizzled and my legs no longer have mountains in them. There are two elements that make up such a hunt in my mind. First, I desire a physical and mental challenge that helps remind me what I am made of and of what I am capable. Second, the space and time to truly appreciate the places hunting takes me and the people who are a part of it with me. This trip was broken into two parts, designed to hit both of these elements.
The first leg of the trip found us backpacking and bush bashing up to the top of the mountains to hunt deer in the alpine. After taking a couple bucks between us we sat back to soak it in. With a few very simple and lightweight ingredients in our packs, we were able to prepare great meals in the field. We dined on our quarry at its own table, high on the mountain overlooking a remote inlet of the pacific ocean. It was beautiful. We spent a full day building and tending to a fire, roasting meats, sipping Scotch and bullshitting. Cooking an animal in the same location you harvest it is a visceral experience and helps make an immediate connection between the spirit of an animal and the meal on your plate.
After a few days in town to re-provision and freshen up, we travelled to the west coast of the islands and spent another four days deepening our connection with each other and the landscape. The highlight of this portion of the trip was exploring the tidal areas, harvesting sea urchin and chanterelle mushrooms and cooking more amazing meals. Again, the search for food and time taken to prepare it was a path to deep connection with the land and the hunting buddies I shared it with.
I believe that all hunts scratch a specific itch. I love an evening truck hunt for deer as much as the next guy. But as the years roll by, I find myself constantly striving to find hunts that combine the elements that have the power to mould me as a person and create lasting memories. Hunts that forge relationships to the land I hunt and the people I share it with. The goal for me is no longer just horns and meat.
The chef in me loves to see hunting expand. I’m glad to see people placing higher importance on the culinary side of hunting, especially in a day and age where hunting for food is the most acceptable reason for non-hunters to get behind hunting. If you count yourself as one of those hunters I would challenge you to take it a step further and spend a day cooking your kill in the location you tag it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.