Lost and Found
Lately, when I wake up at 4a.m., it’s to lull our son back to sleep for another couple hours.
This year, my first tag was for early season antlerless deer out in the scrub country between the mountains and desert in southwest Colorado – the corner I call home. It was still hot after a dry summer, and my scouting trips were telling me the deer were somewhere else, most likely somewhere that looked a little less scorched.
Usually when scouting I have an arrow like focus on reading the country and figuring out where the animals were. But this year, that focus had been replaced by steadily drifting thoughts of my son and wife at home: preparing meals, reading books, building forts, laughing off another fall, sharing all of the small moments that add up to a life together. I was missing more of them with every day and night I was out.
As I left the house well before dawn the first morning of the hunt, I listened one last timefor the telltale murmur signaling that our son was about to wake, then slipped out in to the cold, turning my thoughts toward the land and what it might hold.
Once I was hunkered down in the sage glassing the familiar feeling of being on the hunt returned. At first light a red-tail called from high up in a long dead cottonwood. Coyotes and jackrabbits emerged and tested the air with cautious noses. I even caught a glimpse of a lonely looking deer in the distance.
I had moments of singular focus that morning. But often I was distracted by thoughts of home.
Then I did something I had never before done. I weighed my desire to fill the freezer and the other tags I would be hunting later this season against the growing realization that I didn’t want to spend a large part of the fall away from my young son, and I hiked back to the truck and went home.
A few weeks later I was out again, this time hunting closer to home and with only a few days allotted to fill my next tag.
I had been stalking a small herd of deer for the last half hour, circling to stay with the wind and intercept their steady path as they browsed toward a bedding area. I crawled slowly on my belly through the grass as the dark blue bled from the sky and the first glint of starlight appeared high above. As I drew a bead on a small buck about to disappear into the trees and gently pulled the trigger, I thought about all of the venison we would feed our son this winter, about the hunting stories he would grow up hearing and eventually living, and about how remarkable it is to live somewhere I can search more spots than I can count for game and most likely find something in one of them.
In the end, we all have to find our own balance. As I said my prayer over the deer I had killed, I thanked him for feeding my family, for being part of the circle of life that we sometimes forget we belong to, and for helping to remind me how important it is to strive to live a life that respects our commitments and our place in a community of people, animals, and territories much larger than ourselves.
Matthew Clark is the SCP’s backcountry coordinator for the southwest corner of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and the Dolores River basin.