A line in a recently revived thread made me think of this...
My personal hunting exploits in Alaska have not been all that impressive in terms of game taken. I guess I'm a trophy hunter at heart--I've let many animals walk because they weren't big enough, or in the case of one 60-ish inch moose, being about 3 miserable miles from the boat was enough to keep my bow undrawn. I've also let about a dozen 5 foot blackies walk while waiting for a 6 footer. Then there's the sheep that almost were. I've come close a lot and it's in the coming close that I have some of my best memories, my mental trophies. On each and every hunt I've been on I've seen or experienced something so beautiful or amazing to me that I remember it clearly to this day.
Because I hunt I have seen some wonderful things:
A sow grizzly teaching her cubs to hunt ground squirrels
Looking down on eagles in flight
Waking up from a nap to find an ermine perched on the toe of my boot
A sow blackie call her cubs down out of tree (which saved her life)
Moose in full rut (cows whining, bulls grunting, antlers swaying--it was scary actually)
Being stalked by a black bear
Watching unapproachable rams sleep (they rest the weight of their heads on their noses)
Making eye contact with a bolting ram at 5 yards
Seeing the flight of my arrow arc up to, and then slip just under the brisket of a big ram
Water oozing into very large bear tracks made just moments before I found them
Then of course there's the campfire stories shared with people I love and respect, and slaking my thirst at brightly cold springs on high mountain sides, the whisper of rivers sliding by, and looking out across half of creation on one of those clear fall days when the world is a riot of color. Even regrets, like the times I kicked myself for not bringing a fishing rod along have a way of drifting positive with time...I still remember those beautiful, uncatchable fish finning in the current. Purple knees and hands and mouths from the reckless gobbling of tart-sweet blueberries that always seems to immediately follow discovering a good patch of them. Speaking of berries, I ate my first ever wild black currants and cloudberries on hunts.
These are but a few of my "trophies" and I could have experienced them without hunting, but for me, and I imagine most of you, when killing is on the table something ancient and visceral in me awakens. Hunting brings everything into sharper focus as I slow down and feel the world around me with more sensitivity and intensity. I suppose that's why those memories are still so vivid.
I recognize that someday age or misfortune will prevent me from going into the fall woods but until that sad year arrives I will continue to hunt, and whether I fill a tag or not, I will continue to gather trophies.