Bench Pressing for Jesus

I cried at the gym today, but I’ve never felt stronger.

That’s not only a strange thing to say, it’s a strange thing to experience. You see, most of my life, I have lived without feeling the presence of God.  Much like Mother Teresa said that she acted in faith, but that she did not feel the presence of God, I have marched through life trying to do what is right without any spiritual confirmation that what I was doing was right.  But the outdoors changed that for me.

Sometimes, in some places, all the walls come down.  The walls that I put up to protect me from the garbage the world throws at me.  The walls I put up to protect the world from me when I am enraged by the injustices of the world.  Sometimes, usually for me, on the side of a mountain, looking off into the great distance, seeing this impossible world that God created, those walls come down and God runs into me like a linebacker and I am overwhelmed by His presence.  I am often moved to tears in these instances, just overwhelmed by the beauty of it all and knowing that I am created by the same Creator as these mountains, but yet I am loved more than these mountains and I am more special than these mountains.  That is hard to accept sometimes.

I have struggled to have that connection in other places, because when I’m in civilization, I don’t allow myself to be emotionally or spiritually vulnerable.  There’s too many forces trying to attack me spiritually, I am at war constantly, I know God is with me, but I cannot allow myself to feel him.  The one thing that has always broken through in this situation is music.  Some secular music, but Johnny Cash’s gospel music has always done it, as well as bagpipe versions of “Amazing Grace” or “Scotland the Brave”.  

Lately, I have been using music to try and have these experiences more often. Listening to the Louvin Brothers’ or Wade Bowen’s gospel music puts good thoughts into my head and facilitates more conversational prayer.  I find myself just talking to Jesus about all the awful things going through my head. The anger I feel towards certain people or certain situations and, especially at the gym, asking God, “Out of all the places in the gym to do squats, why did she have to do them in front of me and tempt me to look at her and have thoughts I shouldn’t be having?” As our pastor says, don’t try to fix yourself before coming into the Kingdom, but bring yourself and your problems with you into the Kingdom.  You can’t fix them by yourself, you can only fix them with the help of Jesus.  

So, I’ve tried to turn everything I do into an act of worship.  I’m often not successful at that.  However, when I am successful, it changes everything.  Today, while at the gym, I felt Jesus there with me. I bench pressed more than I had in years (not quite to my personal record, but getting close again – though I am probably stronger now than then, but I don’t have a spotter to push myself) and there was a strength in me that was beyond me.  I just felt like I wasn’t the only one pushing and at a certain point His presence was so strong I found myself crying a little bit.  I just couldn’t control the power of it.  

I think until you feel this feeling, it’s hard to believe that it exists or is even possible.  However, once you experience it, you want to work as hard as you can to live in a constant state of it.  If I could live my life like that, there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish.

2019 - The Year of Indiana Whitetail

Last year, I went all in on Colorado elk.  I spent the better part of the year obsessing over and preparing for the hunt that I went on in November.  As many of you read, I had a litany of problems and it didn’t go as planned, but it was awesome.  When I got back, I wrote about it and with the help of my buddy Mark, I edited the film. When it was all done, I was burnt out. 

I’ve been taking a little break from hunting in general lately.  I’m still reading articles (especially regarding the CWD fear mongering and the possible cure for it) but I’m way behind on podcasts and other things.  I am getting ready to start a new job (a legit one, not some temporary or crap job like I’ve been working for the last year) and I’m getting ready to start my M.B.A. at Colorado State in May.  I’m going to have a lot on my plate this year.  That, and going home for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, is why 2019 is going to be the year of the Indiana whitetail.  

I’m looking forward to going home and doing the type of hunting I did when I first started.  And on top of that, my step-dad has the land rights acquired, has the truck, will set up the tree stands and can be there to help me at harvest.  All I have to do is buy a license and show up with my camo, blaze orange and my .30-06.  Winer, winner, venison dinner.  If I’m able, I hope to join my buddy Jeff for some duck hunting as well, something I’ve never done.  

I will buy my Colorado Small Game and Fishing license in 2019 as well as preference points for elk and possibly a pronghorn tag.  Though I highly doubt the big bulls up in the northwest corner of the state are worried about me, I’m giving them a year of reprieve.  But, as Arnold once said, “I’ll be back.”

An Identity of Action and Values vs. Identity Politics

For thousands of years we lived in a Culture of Honor.  Then as society evolved, we developed a Culture of Dignity. But now, in the 21st century, we live in a Culture of Victimhood.  In a Culture of Victimhood, what I call The Oppression Olympics, is staged every day.  The more minority categories you can fit into, the more you can claim to be oppressed, the higher you climb in the social rankings.  If you’re a black, trans, lesbian, midget, vegan Muslim, well, hey, you’re King of the World (the use of a gender designated title is not by mistake).  

Setting aside arguments about “trans” and “gay” for a minute, the only things in that description that a person has any control over whatsoever are “vegan” and “Muslim”.  Every other thing that is descriptive about that person is passive, it requires no action, no morals or values.  It’s something you’re born as.  How do terms that could describe you as you take your first breaths be what defines you when you are thirty years old?  Shouldn’t you be more than your DNA by the time you reach adulthood?

I firmly believe, the only positive way to define yourself, is through your foundational philosophy and your actions.  I am a Christian, libertarian, father, husband, son, brother, friend, conservationist, hunter, philosopher, musician and writer, to name but a few. Every single descriptor I mentioned requires foundational philosophies and action.  My race doesn’t factor into this one bit.  My Scottish and Cherokee ancestry does not factor into this one bit. Even my sex or gender, it alone doesn’t define me, however, God gave me certain roles and responsibilities that are not the same as which are granted to my wife.  However, together, she and I are two halves of the whole that are required to produce life in the image of God.  But I am only a true man if I, through my actions, fulfill the responsibilities of a man that God asks me to.  

Case in point, being a male, biologically, allows you to produce sperm which can, if in contact with a woman’s egg, produce life.  But it is only a man who takes responsibility for that child and raises it to be a good person as God instructed.  The action of reproduction is only the first action, it requires years of work before the complete action is finished.  This would be like putting on a pair of ice skates and calling yourself a hockey player.  Lacing up your skates is only the first thing, after that, you have to get out on the ice and play 60 minutes as a good teammate and fulfilling your role on the team whether that is wing, center, defense or goalie.  

Do not define yourselves by things outside of your control and do not allow others to define you by those terms either.  Who you are is not defined by these things, nor simply by opinions you hold, nor by who the world tells you you are.  Who you are is who God says you are and hopefully, in agreement with God, who you say you are.  

Who You Say I Am

Concealed Carry State of Mind

Recently, over dinner with a not-so-gun-friendly-friend, I was told, “I’m glad people like you have guns, but not everyone is like you.”  While I appreciated the acceptance of my concealed carrying, I explained to him that almost every concealed carrier in America is indeed like me.  I explained that concealed carry permit holders are less likely to commit a crime, statistically, than law enforcement officers. However, it was my explanation of my state of mind about carrying that impressed him the most.

The Stakes Are Higher

It is really easy for most people to get upset at little things.  No matter how small the injustice, as humans, we want the world to be right.  This is why, to give the easiest example, we name call people who cut us off in traffic. As if that somehow fixes the cosmic forces at work.  Even worse, we may honk our horns or flip people the middle finger.  Some of us are naturally better at this than others, but almost everyone is guilty of this in some form.  However, the concealed carrier has to ask themselves two questions:

Is this worth killing or going to jail over?  And, is this worth dying for?

So many times, violent encounters are small incidents, that step by step, get out of control.  We cannot control the actions of others, which is why we carry in the first place, but we have a choice about whether or not to participate in the process.  People are going to be jerks, whether that’s on the road, or in the supermarket, but you have the opportunity to turn the other cheek almost every time before it escalates into something serious.  

Personal Security is Peace of Mind

If you are unprepared for an encounter, you can become scared, which can cause you to act irrationally.  However, if you carry, and are properly trained, you can remain calm because you know you are prepared if things do go sideways.  When things do happen to me, usually on the road because I drive a lot, I remain calm and try to avoid the situation, knowing that if the situation becomes unavoidable at any given time, I am prepared, both mentally and physically, to protect myself and my family.  While there are exceptions to any rule, I know that the odds are in my favor to walk out of any encounter alive and well.

The Cost of Freedom is Responsibility

Our God given, and Constitutionally protected, rights are constantly under attack.  I feel the weight and responsibility of being the best example I can be every day. When people meet me and find out I’m a gun owner, I have the opportunity to either prove that gun owners are responsible and upstanding citizens or I have the opportunity to prove that gun owners are mentally unstable lunatics.  This is even more of an issue for those of us who live in areas that are very unfriendly to gun owners already.  

While the anti-gunners want to paint us all as irresponsible people, leaving loaded “assault” rifles on the table next to our children’s breakfast cereals, the truth is, an overwhelming majority of us are well rounded and peaceful people.  We’re teachers, scout leaders, preachers, parents, and community leaders of all stripes who take our rights and our responsibilities very seriously.  Whether anchored by faith or philosophy, we live lives of integration, we’re not outlaws.  We have what our critics don’t have, that calm, concealed carry state of mind.

I Know I've Slowed Down in Posting...

A couple of things are going on: (1) I’m working on my memoir, (2) I just applied to work on my MBA at Colorado State and that is going to start in May and (3) I am still searching for a permanent job which has been a real difficult struggle since moving to Colorado. I have started some things I hope to finish soon and publish. I’m not going anywhere, just slowed down for a moment.

Hope y’all are well. See you soon.

Jeremy

There's Nothing Like Another Soul Who's Been Cut Up the Same

In all honestly, the last fourteen months since coming to Colorado has been a struggle for me.  I faced all the usual struggles of moving, like making new friends and getting settled in, but I have not been able to find meaningful work and that has come at the expense of my family’s financial security.  I’ve been open about this struggle and I’ve also been open about the blessings in my life such as my family, our adventures, our new friends and our church.  There’s been a lot of good that’s come out of our move and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

However, in the alternate universe of social media, I hope I haven’t given anyone the opinion that (1) I live a perfect life or (2) that my life sucks and I’m lying about living a perfect life.  My life is awesome, that’s true.  Jesus promised us an abundant life, not a perfect one, and that’s the life I live, abundant, but not without problems.  

When I post quotes from Marcus Aurelius or from Scripture, it’s not because I’m preaching, it’s because I read that and it spoke to me.  I needed to hear it that day and if I needed to hear it, then maybe someone else in my life needed to hear it too.  I know that’s true because numerous people have bought Meditations due to my repeated quotations of it. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a brother or sister strive for that wisdom and try to improve themselves. I’m glad to have played a part, but I think it says something of the caliber of people I choose to surround myself with that they are working hard every day on their own journeys.  

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I love celebrating life’s little moments with all of my loved ones, but my pain, vulnerability and despair are saved for those closest to me.  I know there’s a lot more people out there that love me and would be there for me, but it’s sometimes tough to let some of those things out.  As Brian Fallon wrote in “Handwritten”, “There’s nothing like another soul who’s been cut up the same.”  We reach for those who understand what we’re going through, or we reach for those who understand us completely.  

As a writer, I sometimes bleed onto the page, whether that is the pure written word or one of the many thousands of songs I’ve written over the last twenty-five years.  I give a part of myself away there, or here, but so often it’s cloaked in metaphor or in storytelling so as to not give that pain away directly.  I’m currently working on my memoir and I’m opening my jugular and spilling my pain, heartbreak, joy and sadness all directly to the page. It’s not easy to do, in fact, on more than one occasion I had to stop writing because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to type.  That’ll get released when it’s done, but I can’t let go of that every day to the world via social media.

So, if you see something I post and think thoughts like, “who the hell does he think he is?”, that’s okay, I don’t blame you.  I’m sure it comes off as arrogance or bragging sometimes, but in my heart, I’m just trying to inspire others the way many of you inspire me.  I want everyone to live an abundant life, because it really is magical, even if it’s not without its pain and anguish.  

Selective Absolutism

Every couple of months I will see a friend post something on Facebook that has to do with the healthiness of certain every day products.  This causes cancer, that causes autism, etc.  I catch this most frequently when the product they’re targeting is artificial sweeteners.  I’m a sucker for Splenda in my coffee.  There are really two issues at work here: one, people believing some crap they read on the internet and sharing it without verifying it.  We’re all probably guilty of that to some degree so I won’t throw stones at that one.  But two, many people act like absolutists, when in reality, they’re being very selective about their absolutism.  So, let’s unpack that one.

“You put Splenda in your coffee?  You’re gonna die!”  Okay, so that’s exaggerated, but only slightly.  I’ve had numerous people over the years lecture me about this.  At first, I was genuinely concerned, so I went out to see what the scientific community had written.  There are indeed white papers that say artificial sweeteners cause cancer.  If you look a little deeper though, you’ll see most of these were funded by the sugar industry.  Hmmm, wonder why the sugar industry would do a thing like that?  Every scientific study I could find that was unbiased and looking for the truth had inconclusive results.  So, we don’t know that Splenda won’t give me cancer, but we don’t know that it will either.  

I always start here, with the evidence on the particular claim. However, a lot of people don’t believe me.  Feeling smarter than someone else, whether you’re right or not, is a powerful drug. If I don’t know the person, I then start asking question about their lifestyle.  If I know the person, I start tearing apart their lifestyle.  “So, let me get this straight.  You’re lecturing me about putting a little Splenda in my coffee that we have no strong evidence about, but I know for a fact you have a pack of cigarettes in your car?”

That’s not hyperbolic, I’ve actually said that to at least one person throughout the years.  That guy also lectured me about eating apples because of the pesticides sprayed in orchards. I asked him what he thought they sprayed in tobacco fields.  He switched to American Spirits after that.  

The reality is that we all take risks every single day.  Some of these are known risks; we smoke, we eat fast food, etc.  Most of these are easily avoidable, but eating a Big Mac a few times a year as a treat isn’t going to hurt you.  Eating one every day for lunch is another story.  Some risks are inherent, we don’t know what’s in the air we breathe or the water coming out of the faucet, but we don’t have a choice in the matter.  Most of us also don’t have a choice about being in an automobile and on the roads every day.  If we don’t drive, we’re still susceptible to those who do unless we stay in the house all day.  You can walk, bike, or take the bus, but you’re still out on the roads.  

If you want to have a conversation with a loved one about their smoking, horrible eating habits, texting and driving, etc. please do.  But please don’t act like you’re perfect and high and mighty.  Even those who obsessively read the ingredients to everything and worry about everything, they’re not healthy either.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a real thing.  

We’re human.  We’re going to be imperfect and we’re going to view the world through a selfish lens. I’m defending my use of Splenda, when in reality, I should drink my coffee black.  The difference is, I know I am doing this, I do not think that I am better or my habits are better than someone else’s.  Before we go around criticizing others’ choices, we need to be aware of our own contradictions and hypocrisy.  

Christianity & Stoicism

DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be an academic exercise on what Christianity and Stoicism agree or disagree on. If you’re interested in that, you can look here or here for starters.  This is about my love for both, how one lead me to the other and how I am now, starting to look at them from the perspective of defining my value system. I will probably upset other Christians and other Stoics.  While I am okay with discussing the finer points of each, at the end of the day I am only concerned with my own soul and virtue.  I have to answer only to myself every morning in the mirror and my God.  

If you’re a regular reader, you know I usually open with some situation from the news or some other outside source that really sparked an idea in my head that I apply to faith, the outdoors, or both.  In this case, my friend Chas, who you’ve heard mentioned before, sent me an email with a link to a podcast called Stoicism on Fire.  In listening to the first three episodes, I started realizing that I treat my Christian life and my stoic life as mutually exclusive.  If my faith is guiding my actions, I am not thinking about Stoicism, though nothing I am doing is antithetical to Stoicism.  Or if the Stoics are guiding my actions, I’m not thinking about my faith, though nothing I am doing is against God.  Though I have read many Stoic texts, I have never studied Stoicism as a philosophy and have never thought about the possible compromises I make to both in implementing my value system.  And what exactly is my value system?

Right now, I am in the process of studying both and how they fit together in my life.  Both have had an incalculable impact on my life and have made me a better man.  So, for the sake of this post, I am going to give you some background and then state my plans for going forward.  

1.    Stoicism helped lead me back to Christianity.

This one is hard to explain, but I don’t believe there’s any way I end up back at church and practicing my faith with the zeal that I do now had I not read Meditations two years ago.  I had spent most of my life trying to do the right thing, wanting to be a good man, but not having a plan to go about it.  Marcus Aurelius gave me virtue as something to aspire to and something to work towards.  Reconnecting with Jesus was just the next logical step for me after eighteen months of living and breathing Stoicism.  

2.    Jesus is who I depend on to heal my heart, but Stoicism gives me rules to live by.

One area of disconnect between Stoicism and Christianity is in how you find peace.  The Stoics teach that you can create that for yourself through your actions. Christianity teaches that peace is found through Jesus.  In a way, they’re both right.  When I follow Stoic principles and I act with virtue, there is a peace that comes with knowing I did the right thing.  When I am wronged and I make the conscious decision not to be injured by the actions of the other person, there is a peace in letting go of that hurt.  It’s not quite forgiveness, but it allows me to let go of it and move on with my life.  In Jesus, I learn to forgive and I have a peace that is the undercurrent to my day-to-day life.  It makes choosing not to be injured by the person who wronged me that much easier because I have the love of Christ in my heart.  

3.    For me, Stoicism helps me behave properly on a day to day basis, even when I’m struggling with a larger spiritual issue. It leads me to a more peaceful place where I can deal with the root cause because I’m not creating further damage in the meantime.

I always say there is nothing that you need to learn about life that can’t be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  However, as I’ve realized over the past few months as our pastors have started unpacking this at church, scripture takes some time to decipher for me.  In order for me to understand what Jesus was saying, I have to think of historical context, I have to consider who Jesus was and is, I have to think about what he said just before and what he said just after in order to define just exactly what he was getting at.  I love spending time thinking about this and praying about this, but sometimes, I just need to make a decision.  Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and others wrote in a way, that although it was also 2,000 years ago, is very easily applicable to everyday life.  It often deals with exactly what I’m going through and I can take that and easily apply it to solve a problem.  Once these things are accomplished, I can let go of my anger or frustration and clear my mind so that when I delve into scripture, I can give it the attention it deserves rather than having my mind wander onto whatever is bothering me at the moment.  

For me, Stoicism and Christianity work in harmony.  I’m still learning exactly how they work in harmony and I’m sure I’ll be faced with some forks in the road going forward, but one supports and emboldens the other.  I don’t know who I’d be without Marcus Aurelius and Jesus in much the same way that I don’t know who I’d be without my parents. I will write in more detail about this topic as I move forward and find little tidbits to explore.  

What Happened to the Awesomeness of Uncertainty?

I recently watched a clip of Mike Rowe being interviewed on Fox and something he said really jumped out at me. Paraphrased, it was, “our generation used to look at what was around the corner and say, ‘man, the future is uncertain, the possibilities are endless.’  And now, this new generation looks at the uncertainty of the future and they say ‘Oh my God, it’s so scary, I can’t deal with this.’”  I listen to that and I see what’s going on at the university in Boulder and I read and watch what’s going on at other colleges around the country and I realize he’s right.  What’s really unfortunate is that if life is anything, it’s uncertain, and we’re not preparing our kids for that reality at all.

The other thing of note from that interview was that it is not really these kids’ fault.  It’s ours. It’s the Boomers and the Gen Xers. We’re the ones that allowed this and raised these kids (well, not me, I’m one of the youngest Gen Xers and I had my child well into my 30s, so she’s still growing).  

The outdoors, and hunting specifically, is one of the best ways to learn how to deal with uncertainty.  It could be as simple as, “What’s the view from the top of this hill?” as you’re hiking or it could be, “Are we going to see a bear?”.  No matter what it is, going into the outdoors for an excursion, especially an extended one, is something you prepare for.  Before you go, you examine what all the possibilities could be and you arm yourself with knowledge and equipment to handle those situations should they come. Most of the time they don’t.  And sometimes you experience something you didn’t expect.  And you learn from that.

In my experience, backpacking trips are pretty simple to prepare for. There are a lot of serious things that can go wrong, I’m not making light of those things, but depending on where you’re going, proper gear, a wilderness first aid class and some basic know-how will take you a long way.  In hunting, every move is exponential.  Starting with the fact you’re carrying a weapon.  But also, you have to factor in the movements of your prey, independent beings that you have no control over.  Then you have your mindset.  You could catch buck fever and follow an animal for two miles before realizing you weren’t paying attention to how you got there.  

Whether in the outdoors or in life, you can’t prepare yourself for everything. Those who try end up being their own worst enemies.  However, you can learn to prepare for things you can predict might happen and then mentally (and however else) prepare yourself to face those things.  Simply taking a kid camping and letting them pack their own gear is a great way for them to learn skills on how to prepare.  Do they forget their pillow?  Well, they’ll have an uncomfortable night that they might remember the next time they pack.  Do they forget an essential item, such as a stocking cap on a chilly night?  There are a couple ways to handle that, but again, it’ll be in the forefront of their mind next trip.  

We owe it to our kids to prepare them for life.  We brought them into this world, they didn’t ask for it.  It’s our responsibility to make sure they are equipped to handle life’s pressures.  If we do a good job, not only will they survive this harsh world, but they’ll make the most of what’s available to them and they’ll thrive.  And as parents, isn’t that what we all want for them?

Define Yourself by Who You Are, Not Who You Aren’t

It’s difficult sometimes for a person to describe themselves.  The labels thrown around in the media often don’t do us justice; maybe we call ourselves conservative but we don’t like the president. Or maybe, as recently happened to me, a person called themselves an anti-hunter, but I know this person eats bacon double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s on a regular basis.  We find ourselves to be incredibly complex creatures and therefore hard to describe.  Though, in one of life’s many contradictions, many of us find it very easy to label others. Throughout all of this, I see one major distinction in people: those who describe themselves by who they are, versus those who describe themselves by who they aren’t or what they aren’t.  Let’s look at a few of these.

Anti-Trump.  God bless the president, for if nothing else, he’s given us so much to talk about outside the realm of politics.  People who call themselves anti-Trump are telling us absolutely nothing about themselves.  You hate one man.  Good. Why?  It usually boils down to “Orange Man bad.”  For eight years I never heard one person describe themselves as “anti-Obama” though I’m sure they existed.  I rarely agreed with Mr. Obama but it was always because I’m a libertarian, not because of some personal vendetta.  You don’t have to like the president, but if that’s how you define yourself, then maybe you should spend a little more time developing your character and personality.  Read a book, join community theater, take up yoga, do something.  

Atheist.  Great, you don’t believe in God.  What do you believe?  Take a cue from Dr. Greg Graffin, who dislikes the term “atheist” and describes himself as a monistic naturalist, meaning he believes in one plane of existence and it came about naturally without the intervention of any deity.  Do you believe in secular humanist principles? Are you a follower of some nontheistic moral philosophy?  Or are you just intellectually lazy?  All but the intellectually lazy and narcissistic hedonists have some sort of moral code, what is yours?  

Anti-Hunter (Meat Eaters).  Returning to the interaction I mentioned previously, I think her logic could be summed up by the fact she said “I’m open-minded” in one sentence and “there’s nothing you can say to change my mind” in the next. She claimed she’d seen animals injured by hunters, and it’s true, it happens, and it’s a tragedy when it does. However, she wanted no part in the conversation about Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson or the fact hunters and fishermen (and archery and firearms enthusiasts) pay for over 90% of conservation dollars to protect those animals.  It was a half-assed moral argument that conveniently ignored the animals hit by cars, the animals that starve to death mostly due to habitat loss, the animals that die by disease and yes, even the occasional accident in the slaughterhouse that produces the meat for her Big Macs.   And what kind of life did those cows have before becoming ground into frozen patties?  Those are all tragedies on the same plane.  So, you’re anti-animal suffering?  Welcome to 99.99% of humans on the planet.  None of us want that.  You’re not anti-hunting really, you’re “anti-anyone else doing anything differently than you would do it.”

When I meet people, I want to know who you are, where you came from and what you believe.  I don’t want to hear about what you’re not.  I’m a Christian, I don’t go around telling people I’m not Jewish.  I’m a hunter, I don’t tell people, “I’m not a vegan.” Describing yourself is tough for sure, I struggle with it because I’m self-centered enough to think I’m more complex than the Average Joe, even though I know I’m not.  Do the words “libertarian”, “Christian”, “father”, “husband”, “hunter”, “artist” or anything else give you a complete picture of who I am?  No, of course not, but they certainly lead you down the path to who I am a lot better than if I tell you who I’m not.  Then once you know who I am, you can decide whether you like me or not.  Unfortunately, even in this world of technological instant gratification, getting to know someone still takes time and effort.  The good news is, it’s usually worth it.

Wilderness as the Antidote to Social Media Culture

Regrettably, I live in the 21st century.  I have always thought I belonged to another time, but things being as they are, social media is a necessary evil.  I share pictures of my child with my family through Facebook, I promote this very page through GoWild and I promote my photography through Instagram. And like everyone else, it’s a somewhat calculated and contrived persona I have created for myself.  I am not posting photos of my pasty white beer gut or rambling on and on about the difficulties in my life.  For those who don’t know me well, I live a life of joy and adventure with nothing but intellectual and spiritual pursuits.  And I do live that life, but that’s only part of the story. 

Studies show that anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially with the younger generations.  I am not sure if we can diagnose social media as the cause, but there is certainly a correlation.  When you constantly compare yourself to the carefully crafted images of your friends and media personalities, it’s hard not to feel like your life just doesn’t measure up. This is why, as a culture, we take such pleasure in seeing celebrities fall from grace.  When we find out they have drug problems or cheat on their spouse, it brings them back down to earth from the stratosphere.  

Wilderness is the perfect antidote to the virtual rat race.  Not only is it healthy to get away from your devices for a while (please, please, please do not sit on a rock overlooking a beautiful vista and play on your phone, or blare crappy music from a Bluetooth speaker), but the clean air and exercise will make you feel better.  If you do it enough, it’ll make you look better too.  When you’re in the wild, you’re faced with no competition but yourself.  No one knows how fast you hiked up that mountain.  No one knows how labored your breathing was. No one knows what else is going on in your head.  You only have to compare yourself today with yourself of yesterday, with plans to be better tomorrow.  True growth comes in competition with yourself, not with others.

My daughter is growing up in front of a camera lens.  I am partially to blame because I am constantly taking pictures of her and my wife.  This will get worse once she’s older and into the world of phones and tablets.  At least now she’s wise enough to say things like, “Dad why are you always taking pictures?”  She understands there’s more to life than being in front of the lens. This is because we make a concerted effort to get out into the wild and I only take the camera out at certain times. It’s great to document our family adventures, but it’s important to experience them and be present as well.  As the kids say, YOLO, you only live once.  Do you want to spend your time living or do you want to spend all your time manufacturing a life you wished you lived?

Your Actions Are Your Faith

Over the weekend, Ben Shapiro had his Sunday Conversation with a Catholic priest. I will first admit I didn’t watch it, however, one of the highlights in the Facebook post was about how the priest says that good-natured atheists will go to heaven.  Of course, the comments section was filled with angry Protestants quoting scripture about “faith alone.”  Personally, I think both of these folks have it wrong.  The priest is wrong because it is not your acts that will save you and the angry masses are wrong because, while it may be faith that saves you, your actions are a manifestation of your faith.  If you’re not out in the world doing God’s work, then how strong is your faith?

I don’t believe these two points are equally important to us.  Who God does or does not let into heaven is His decision, not mine, therefore I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. However, let us break down these two points of view.

 

You are saved by faith alone.

This is mostly a point of view given by those who throw scripture verses at people instead of mounting a logical, and theological, argument.  They claim to be Biblical literalists but eat bacon wrapped shrimp and let their wives sleep in the bed with them while they’re menstruating.  In this case, as my pastor said recently, I can say whatever I want to, but if you follow me around for a week or two, you’ll see what I really believe.

Do I believe that, as Paul said, I am saved by faith through grace? Absolutely.  100%.  It is because of that I want to live that life.  Not just go to church on Sunday, not just tell people I love Jesus, but I want to be like Jesus.  As much as I can be anyhow.  I believe that one day I’m going to be asked things like, “Why did you do this?  And why didn’t you do that?”  I want that questioning to be as short as possible (prediction, I’m going to be there for a while).  

I am a firm believer that what you put into yourself is what comes out of you. Whether that is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  If you eat like crap, you are going to feel like crap.  If you’re inputting hate into your heart, hate is going to come out of you. If you put Jesus into your heart, truly put Him in your heart and not just pay him lip service, something Jesus-like will come out of you.  You will live a life of service to your loved ones, to your community and to Him.  It is my observation that many Christians, too many Christians, like to play the part but they’re afraid to do the work on themselves and therefore, they do very little work to serve others.  

I believe that the folks who are always screaming about “faith alone” are doing so because they’re worried about their own faith.  Let’s be honest here, a judgmental Facebook comment is not going to convert anyone to Christ or change someone’s theology.  They’re posting that to try and alleviate their own fears. The reality is, if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

A good-natured atheist will go to Heaven.

I don’t know.  That’s the simple answer.  There is far more to God than what we can find in scripture.  The Bible is for humans, so that we get to know God and what God wants for us.  It’s not a biography of God, nor His memoirs or a list of questions and answers humans will have.  Sure, there’s a lot of that stuff in there, but it’s far from a complete picture.  While I don’t think a priest should be advocating for “saved through works,” I do think there’s a sound theological argument for it, but it has more to do with the eternal spirit than it has to do with works alone.

This idea first came to me from Fr. John Dear, a priest (former Jesuit) I was acquainted with in Chicago.  We had this conversation on my back porch over beers and brats along with my friend Doug. At the time, it blew my mind and caused me, as humans are wont to do, to go extreme in my counter-argument, “I just can’t believe Hitler is in heaven.”  The conversation went something like this:

Fr. John: What is God’s sole desire of us?

Jeremy: For us to love Him as He loves us.

Fr. John: Do you believe the soul and our consciousness is eternal?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, what do you imagine a life-long atheist will say to God when he dies and comes face to face with the awesomeness that is God?

Jeremy: He would immediately realize he was wrong, beg for forgiveness and worship and love God.

Fr. John: And does God forgive, always?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, then, the atheist, now being a believer, would be welcomed into the kingdom?

Jeremy: By that logic, yes.

Now, is that true?  I don’t know. While I studied theology as part of my degree from DePaul and I have wrestled with many of these issues over the years, I am by no means an expert.  I do believe that the theology is sound and I do believe that in heaven there will be none of the things that sew evil into the hearts of man like there is on earth.  There will be no mental illness, no hate, no greed, no lust for power, no abuse and no violence.  None of the things that cause us to harm one another here on earth.  I also want to believe in an inclusive God, who understands His children, what they went through and why they may not have been able to find faith in this lifetime.  As my buddy Rob said recently at our small group, maybe some people, after death, will still deny God and those people will go to hell.  

This second point is a fun and interesting intellectual exercise, but ultimately, it’s something I spend little time thinking about.  Your soul is your responsibility the same as mine is mine. Don’t worry about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, that’s God’s responsibility, not ours.  

As to the first point, I believe that I have a duty to talk with fellow Christians and try to inspire them to do more, to help more and to live out their faith. Yet, even that, there is a limit to my ability to influence.  Again, your soul is your responsibility and mine is mine.  If I ask you if you are living out your faith, and you tell me yes, then I will believe you, but only you and God know if that’s really true. Though I will say, no matter how good of a person you are, the reality is, the honest answer for all of us is really “no” because there’s always going to be areas where we could be better.  

Ultimately, this all comes down to common sense.  If your desire is to spread the love of God, you just have to stop and ask yourself before you act, “Is this going to further God’s message or not?” If the answer is no, leave it.  No one is going to be converted to Christ through your Facebook comment, but they might be by your actions of love and generosity.  

I Love You and So Does the Lord

I love you and so does the Lord.  

This expression came to me from my best friend, who has been saying it to me for almost thirteen years now.  It started as a light-hearted way to end a phone conversation or to break the tension during a discussion of a serious topic.  It’s also something we both take very seriously because we know that both of these things are true, we love each other and God loves us.

However, this expression has become something more to me over the years. It’s become my verbal weapon of choice. Whenever someone says something mean or hurtful, I try to respond with, “I love you, and so does the Lord.”  Most of the time I even mean it, though I admit, not every time.  Sometimes it is simply a defense mechanism designed to keep me from losing it.  

It doesn’t always diffuse the situation, in fact, it has enraged one or two people through the years.  It does, however, make me feel better every single time.  Knowing that I responded to anger, or worse, hatred, with love, enlarges my heart and gives me peace of mind.  Not only can I not control other people’s actions, but I am not responsible for them.  I am only responsible for my own actions, I am completely in control of my actions, and therefore I have a duty to act in the most honorable way possible.

Do I sometimes fail?  Yes, I often fail.  It’s easy to make excuses for acting inappropriately when you’re angry, but there is nothing to really excuse failing to act in a way that is in alignment with what you know to be true.  

Whether it is hateful comments from animal rights activists, an angry political comment or simply a rude person at Walmart, “I love you and so does the Lord.”

The NRA vs. the World

It’s the age-old argument.  Something isn’t right, do you tear down the whole thing, or do you work within the system? Do you focus on the trees or on the forest?  Maybe, there is no right answer.  Maybe, that’s the problem.  However, it doesn’t stop us from needing a solution.

Ron Paul, who is a libertarian hero, ran as a Republican for most of his life in public service.  His son Rand Paul, who is perhaps more conservative than his father, is a sitting U.S. Senator and also is a Republican.  While these two men are out of step with many Republicans on a number of issues, they feel the ideals of liberty are better served with them in Congress than with them running as Libertarians and gaining somewhere around 3% of the vote.  They know that simply running as a third party means having zero influence on national policy. The Gun Owners of America and the Firearms Policy Coalition, as well as many others, are always criticizing the much, much larger National Rifle Association for being too lenient on gun control, much as Libertarians are constantly criticizing Democrats and Republicans.  

Much like both Dr. Pauls, I have chosen to focus on the forest, rather than every individual tree.  I criticized the NRA for years, and still do when it is warranted, but two years ago, after the Sutherland Springs shooting, I broke down and joined.  When I saw an NRA instructor take down the lunatic shooter, I knew which side I wanted to be on.  I wanted to get more involved and be a part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines and hurl insults that no one will hear.  

I have written about the need for solidarity amongst outdoors people in spite of our differences, but I think it is equally important that all firearm owners band together as well.  Sure, we can debate our differences, but the in-fighting, insults and division need to be mitigated by our common goal of protecting our God given and Constitutionally protected rights.  We all know the gun grabbers’ agenda is “death by a thousand cuts” and I don’t think posting memes of elephants defecating on social media is going to hold back the tide of the emotional, illogical, fear mongering gun control zealots.  

As much as I respect the work of these smaller, more hardcore, gun rights groups, the reality is the NRA is the only organization that has a voice on a national level.  Furthermore, the NRA does an overwhelming amount of good work from the Eddie Eagle program to free hunter education programs to its legislative work.  For example, do I agree with their support of a bump stock ban?  No, but thinking a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist utopia is possible is just as naïve as the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez’s idea that socialism would work if we just tried it one more time.  

Much like other parts of life, it’s complicated, nuanced and sometimes contradictory, but would you rather slow the erosion of your rights to a trickle or lose them altogether?  No organization is perfect, especially an organization as large as the NRA. However, gun owners criticizing the NRA for not standing up for every little thing while going to the polls and voting for constantly compromising Republicans every two years is a bit of a contradiction all to its own.  

European Hunting Culture vs. American Hunting Culture in a Nutshell

One of the benefits to large tech companies tracking everything you look at is that they’re able to see what you like and show you other things, things that you may not be aware of but might like as well.  Honestly, this is really the only benefit to tech companies tracking everything you look at.  Since I follow pretty much nothing but hunting pages, Instagram is always showing me other hunting pages and this has led me to follow a few European pages and it has been interesting to say the least.

Brantas Hunting Clothing is a company based in Poland.  I started following them because my wife is from Poland and I wanted to see how folks over there hunt.  Since it is a clothing company, most of their posts involve the clothing, which in and of itself tells us a lot about the differences in culture.  

In order to explain this, let us go back in time.

Before Europeans colonized what is now the United States, only the very rich in Europe were able to hunt.  If you owned the land, you owned the animals on that land, and pretty much all of Europe was owned by someone.  If it didn’t have an owner, then it was owned by the king.  If you were a peasant and you were hungry, or low on meat, too damn bad. The royalty and the landed gentry would go hunting in fine clothing, knowing they wouldn’t get dirty because their servants would do all the dirty work.  

When the lower class came to America, everything changed.  For one, there was far too much land and far too few landed gentry for them to control hunting in the same manner.  Also, many settlers, think Daniel Boone, often pushed deep into Indian country to do their hunting.  Many also chose to go settle new lands far beyond the reach of the European colonizers.  These early settlers lived off the land.  They hunted and they made clothes of what they had available, which was often the furs and skins of animals.  It turns out, they learned from the Indians, that this clothing was also incredibly practical.

As hunting evolved in America, it became a tradition for the rural lower class more so than the urban middle and upper classes.  I believe part of the anger towards hunters was born in the classism that has been rampant in our culture ever since the Industrial Revolution started growing our cities.  Hunters in America have held onto certain traditions and rituals that many urban folks see as “primitive” or “savage.”

Today, not much has changed.  Hunting in Europe is available to the commoner now, but it is incredibly cost prohibitive.  It might be legal to do, but the financial cost and draconian firearm laws keep most folks from being able to hunt.  Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt and his peers, animals in the United States are owned by the people, not the land owner.  Thanks to TR and his peers we have public land to go hunt on.  Any American in good legal standing can go hunt if he or she desires.  

I still find hunting in other parts of the world fascinating and it is interesting to me to see how folks in other places dress when they go hunting. That having been said, I love North America and I love the animals we have here.  While I hope to be able to hunt in other parts of the United States and Canada someday, I have no desire to go elsewhere.  My dreams are still of living like my great uncle Daniel Boone, roaming the woods and mountains for elk.  

We Should Support All Women, Unless They Disagree With Us

If you spend any time at all reading the news, you’ll see how our First Lady is treated.  The pro-immigration, open borders proponents, will mock her Slovenian accent.  The pro-sex feminists will call her a “whore” for having modeled underwear.  Those opposing the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice accused of high school indiscretions will hold signs that say, “Rape Melania.”  As this recent Op-Ed by Carrie Lukas points out, in spite of what they might say, certain folks aren’t interested in women’s equality, they’re interested in homogeny.  Any threat to that needs to be dealt with by any means necessary.

No matter the strides made by women over the last few decades in our society, women definitely take harder hits online than men.  This is especially true of women hunters.  Even this article in the Washington Post about the problem starts off with a critical barb in referring to her “Noah’s Ark of death”.  Most of the women mentioned in this article are women I have followed and admired for years.  Kendall Jones, Melissa Bachman and Eva Shockey are the type of role models I want for my daughter.  They’re hunters and conservationists, but they’re also wives, mothers, friends and Christians.  They’re women doing what they want to do, how they want to do it.  I was taught to believe that was the true point of the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s – to let women make their own choices. Unfortunately, it seems today that women making their own choices is only approved of when those choices are the same ones the critics would make.  

Sounds to me like these critics are telling women they’re out of line and need to get back in their place.  Funny how that works sometimes.

Ladies, you didn’t vote how you should have?  You must be racist or too weak to fight the patriarchy.  It’s definitely not possible you just made up your own mind because if you did, you’d have come to the exact same conclusions we did.

Ladies, you don’t support gun control? You must love to see the slaughter of innocent children at school every day.  Maybe you’d change your mind if your kid was murdered.  

Ladies, you like to put your own food on the table by hunting?  You’re sick. I should be carrying YOUR decapitated head in my bag.

Keep in mind that, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3% of people in the United States identify as “vegan”.  So, 97% are consuming some animal products.  Roughly 5% of Americans identify as “vegetarians” which brings the meat-eating population to around 92% of America.  So, are the anti-hunters coming completely from those 8% or are there some lunatic hypocrites out there buying pork chops and condemning hunters? I think it is largely vegans, but there are some hypocrites out there as well (Ricky Gervais comes to mind here).

So, why does the anti-hunting crowd, who we know leans to the left, use sexism to attack female hunters while out of the other side of their mouth, they’re screaming “sexist!” at every man they disagree with?  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that every one of these women are attractive.  The anti-hunters are using the attractiveness of the female hunters to get their own clicks. It’s great for them that they can call Kendall Jones “former Texas cheerleader” or say “former beauty queen” Olivia Opre.  

Because it’s not about gender or race or orientation or any other group, it’s about control.  Controlling the narrative.  Controlling the actions of others.

I have been critical, as have others, of hunters posting a “grip n’ grin” photo because it lacks the proper context that would allow us to send the right message to non-hunters.  However, no one deserves to be threatened or have their families threatened.  Even the name calling shows a weakness and sickness in our society.  The fact that these folks go after women with a greater amount of vitriol because they expect women to conform to certain social roles shows just how backwards, bigoted and hateful these folks truly are.  If these people think it’s a woman’s right to have an abortion, then they damn sure should think it’s a woman’s right to feed her family however they see as the best way possible for them.  

I’m not standing up for these ladies because I’m a man and they’re women. Hell, each one of them can out shoot and out hunt me and are more than capable of taking care of themselves. I’m standing up for them because they’re the kind of people who would stand up for me.  I’m standing up for them because I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she can make her own decisions.  And quite frankly, we all should be standing up to bigotry and hate of all kinds, wherever we see it.  

Paying for National Parks

Recently I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page from one of his British friends saying the idea of paying to get into a large parcel of land was something he couldn’t wrap his head around.  Being married to a European immigrant and having spent a fair amount of time in Central Europe, I can understand why someone unfamiliar with the system would feel that way.  National parks in Europe do not get the tourism that national parks in America do, nor do they have the amenities many of our parks do.  

This led me to think back to earlier this year when the National Parks Department toyed with the idea of raising entrance fees to many parks. There was outrage from a certain segment of the population and I just couldn’t understand why.  For one, the annual pass was going to remain at $80 per year (which is an absolute steal).  Two, if the park entrance goes from $35 to $45, is that really an outrage?  If you planned your whole family vacation around visiting this park, are you really going to change your plans over $10? Keep in mind for you unfamiliar, this entrance fee is good for seven days for your entire car.  So, to do the math, if you drive a minivan into the park with six people in it, that’s $1.07 per person, per day.  Are you telling me it’s not worth it now?  Where are you going to go instead?  Disneyland?

Our national parks and public lands are a bargain vacation.  Sure, you can rack up hotel bills, meals out, etc. but you can do that on any vacation.  If you’re willing to do a little work and hit the grocery store, you can save money and have enjoyable meals in the park.   

National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land have few amenities, get less visitors and are usually free (some high trafficked areas might have small day use or campground fees).  However, our national parks get millions of visitors per year which means maintenance on roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, and educational services in addition to a larger number of rangers to serve and protect the visitors in a multitude of capacities.  Although rangers are famous for the hats that they wear, they wear many figurative hats from biologist to police officer.  

Personally, I enjoy getting away from the crowds in national parks and I like to frequent wilderness areas, BLM land and national forests.  These visits rarely cost me a dime.  My daughter, at six, has camped in dozens of these places already on family camping trips.  However, especially for a child, trips to our national parks are a cherished American tradition.  Where else can she see bison from the car or geysers shoot out of the ground?  These are magical places only ruined by the sheer number of other visitors who often have less than desirable manners.  

In 2019 Colorado is raising the price of certain hunting licenses and tags. It’s a few bucks.  While some people are getting upset about it, I’m more than happy to pay the extra money.  It’s still an absolute bargain for everything Colorado Parks and Wildlife does throughout the year.  Our national parks are the same, if you can’t see the value in what you’re paying for, maybe you just don’t value it enough.   

The Absurdity of Anthropomorphism

This post was influenced by an essay by Paul McCarney published on www.truthaboutfur.com

 

According to Merriam-Webster, anthropomorphism is “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.” In other words, it’s giving human qualities or characteristics to something that is not human.  Animal rights activists are the professionals at this, treating everything from amoeba to horses as if they were just like you and me.  As it happens, they’re not like you and me and seeing them as such is viewing nature through a distorted and perverted lens.

This is not to say we don’t have things in common with other animals, especially other mammals.  Other mammals give birth to live young and the mothers nurse the young from their breast milk.  Coyotes can be loners but can also choose to work together in certain situations for the common good.  It has been said that bears, when skinned, look so much like a human, many people refuse to eat bear.  There is nothing wrong with accepting, and even admiring, these commonalities in other animals.  

However, this reminds me of a picture that has gone around the internet for years. It’s a copy of a letter to an editor that a person wrote about a wildlife crossing sign that was recently put up in their town.  The writer complained that they should move the wildlife crossing to some place safer because that was a very dangerous section of highway and it wasn’t safe for the wildlife to cross there.  Because in this person’s mind, the wildlife can see and read the sign and will cross wherever the sign tells them to.  

I hope we can all agree that deer can’t read.  Let’s just start there.

Why can’t we love animals for all the ways they’re different than us?  Humans are one of the few species on earth where the female is more attractive than the male.  I love seeing mallard drakes in the creek behind my house, their majestic green necks and heads standing up proud and tall.  Or a mature bull elk that carries around eighty pounds of antlers on his head like it weighs nothing at all.  Or the way a pronghorn can hit speeds of up to sixty miles per hour and maintain it for miles, but yet can barely jump over a log.  A person does not need to invent ways to admire and appreciate wildlife, God gave us reasons to love every creature, even if it is only as basic as spiders that eat mosquitoes.  

Treating animals as if they’re human neither benefits the animals, nor the humans.  We cannot tell the whitetail deer not to run out in the middle of the road or stay out of the soybean fields.  Once the population is past carrying capacity, the animals will just starve to death from lack of sustaining habitat.  Then there are coyotes, wolves, winter, disease and many other ways for animals to die.  Sure, humans can starve to death, but in America, that’s rare and of course, all animals are susceptible to disease, but not too many humans these days being killed by predators or winter.  Because we are not like other animals.

I truly believe that accepting and appreciating the differences in animals, specifically between humans and other wildlife, drives a deeper desire for conservation than anthropomorphizing them does.  Those of us who do admire those traits we don’t share spend a lot of time out in nature observing and, at least part of the year, interacting with them. The type of folks who anthropomorphize, with a few exceptions, are the type that just want them to be left alone, they’re just happy they’re out there, somewhere where they don’t have to deal with them.  

True love, just like with your spouse, is loving them because of how they’re different than you.  And just like with your spouse, you can try like hell to make them just like you, but it never works.  

The Elk Hunt Ruled by Murphy's Law

It all began innocently enough, with a boy in Southern Indiana watching Jeremiah Johnson on a cold winter’s day. However, twenty-three years later, attempting to make a Colorado mountain elk hunt a reality was getting more difficult by the day. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

I started from scratch. I didn’t start hunting until I was an adult and even then, it was Indiana and Kentucky white tail. I didn’t even own a rifle when I moved to Colorado last year. All I had was a desire to go hunt elk in the mountains and hours of time in the car spent listening to Randy Newberg’s podcasts. 

Over the last year I collected all the gear I would need. I began scouting using OnX maps online and a paper topo map of the Game Management Unit I planned to hunt that I picked up at Bass Pro Shop. I thought, with a few suggestions from a new friend, that I had a pretty solid game plan.  Between having a third rifle season bull tag and a fourth rifle season cow tag, I was planning on being successful in bringing home some meat. However, bringing meat home wasn’t going to be a requirement of having a great hunt. I was just happy I was going to be out there doing it after dreaming about it for all those years.

The first thing to go wrong was my friend telling me he was not going with me for third season.  So, I was elk hunting for the first time on my own. At this point, I decided I would just go for half the season, see what I could get into or learn and hang on until he got up there for fourth season.  Then, the night before I was to leave, he texted me new GPS coordinates and told me his buddies had just tagged out in this other location where there were a ton of elk and very few other hunters around. He asked me to go grab their campsite and hold it down for him. I reluctantly agreed.

It was a four-and-a-half-hour drive to northwest Colorado. I really enjoyed the drive through new country, listening to country music and a couple podcasts. It was without incident up until the last mile and a half where I got stuck in some nasty mud, on the side of a mountain. I had no cell service, but I had my Garmin InReach and I sent a text to my friend and my wife. I started up the mountain to hike the last mile and a half and try to reach the guys at camp, but I could not find them. I tried the truck again, but I just made it worse. So, I decided to hike back down the mountain towards one of the ranches I saw on the drive in.

After walking a couple miles, I came to the first ranch. I reluctantly climbed the fence and walked the half-mile driveway to the house. I yelled from the drive since I didn’t expect that they get too many drop-ins, but no one was home. I walked out and continued on. After a couple more miles, I came within sight of a house that had a truck in the drive and dogs running around outside. No sooner than I noticed this, a hunter in a side-by-side drove by and I filled him in on my predicament. His name was Dave and he drove me to the house, where he knew the owner, Jack, and Jack let me come inside to warm up and call AAA.  

The man at AAA said he could get someone out to me. Jack had to go to work, so I thanked him, and Dave drove me the five miles back to my truck. Not long after, the two guys I was supposed to meet, Bercerra and Julio, came down to see what was going on. I was blocking the road, so they had an incentive to help me get unstuck. I used my Garmin to text with my wife and have her call AAA and check on the status. The guy who they were going to send to help me flat out refused to go, so Bercerra, Julio and I began trying to dig me out.

It took almost three hours to dig me out, put the snow chains on the rear tires and get started trying to get me out. Thanks to Bercerra guiding me, I was able to get away from the ledge and up against the mountain on the other side of the road where there was a nice rut. Bercerra guided me as I drove in reverse about a quarter mile down the mountain until I got to a spot where I could get turned around. From there, I followed the guys down the muddy two-track and texted my wife who told me that AAA had called Search and Rescue. I had her call them back to cancel, assuring them that I was okay, and I was going to town to get a shower to wash the mud off of me.

I tried to regroup that night and planned to head up to my Plan A spot the next morning. I had a warm dinner, got an okay night’s sleep and got up before dawn to head to the campground.  When I got to the campground, I immediately slid off the road and had to have a couple of nearby hunters pull me out. I then found the first available campsite and began setting up. After a couple of hours, I was ready to hit the woods. However, as I was getting ready I had a chat with a hunter from Mississippi who had tagged out. He told me the elk were all heading down onto private land. I thanked him for the head’s up, but set out for the woods anyhow.  

Six hours of walking around in six- to eight-inches of snow and I saw mule deer sign and small game sign, but I did not see one piece of elk sign. I gave up for the day and went back to my tent to read my Bible and try to regain my composure. After some soul searching and contemplation, I thought the right thing to do was to go home, regroup and then come back for fourth season where I could hook up with my friend, so that’s what I planned to do. The next morning when I tore down camp, the campground that was full the day before was almost empty. I thought for sure that was a sign I was doing the right thing.

Of all the mistakes and all the bad luck, that was my biggest mistake. I should have stayed there, at least a couple more days. I should have continued exploring the area, especially since I was going to have the area to myself. But if I’m being honest, after being stranded on the side of a mountain alone and not knowing how I was going to get down for the better part of the day, I think I was ready for the safety of having other people around.  

During the three days I was home, I poured over OnX looking for places to go on public land at lower elevation where elk might be. I thought I had a spot found that had water, lower elevation and food, but I forgot to look for cover. The place I had picked, which I couldn’t really tell by the satellite view, was all sage brush. Ignorantly and excitedly, I packed up the truck again and headed up to northwest Colorado.  

When I was driving into the BLM land, I knew I had screwed up. Mule deer were everywhere and I saw a lot of pronghorn, but it didn’t look good for elk. I drove from hilltop to hilltop, stopping, getting out and glassing everywhere I could. In that territory, an elk herd would be easy to see. There were none. 

My friend, who all year I had thought I would be able to rely on, decided to go to the spot where I had gotten stuck and the road where he knew I had no interest in attempting again. So, I was on my own again. Perhaps the first mistake I’d made is assuming he would make the same decisions I would. He has meat in the freezer from last year and he shot a 6x6 bull during first rifle season. If the shoe was on the other foot, my priority would be to help the new hunter, not pursue a cow for myself when I have two elk in the freezer already. This is not to say he owes me anything, he does not; but I apparently did not make it clear to him that I needed his help. If I would have been more up front about expectations, he could have set me straight and I could have dealt with it beforehand, rather than on the fly.

Now I’ve spent the entire afternoon glassing this sagebrush area and there’s no elk to be found for miles. Once again, I feel defeated and demoralized. I feel like I can’t catch a break. I looked at OnX and couldn’t find any other place to go other than the places I’ve already been. In hindsight, I would go back to the campground that I had left a few days prior, but the non-stop bad luck and bonehead mistakes wore me down. I decided to make my way home again. Though the bad luck would continue as my truck was hit by a large mule deer on the way out and then I met one of Wyoming’s finest on I-80 just west of Laramie.  

I learned a lot over that week. I learned that although solitude is important, it’s much better to suffer with a friend or family member. I learned to not let doubt influence my decision making too much, and to have confidence in the abilities I know I have already, such as orienteering. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I have even more to learn than I already knew I did.  

Elk hunting is hard for anyone, let alone someone who has never done it before and is striking off on their own. In spite of everything, I’m more determined than ever to do it again next year but do it better. I knew I was going to learn a few lessons. I expected different lessons, but nonetheless, I gained a lot from the experience and I’m excited to start thinking about next year. 

 

 

Forgiveness in the Field

Inspired by this recent post by Brody Henderson as well as recent sermons from my church, Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, CO available on YouTube here.

 

As hunters there is a lot of pressure on us to not make mistakes. Both self-imposed ethically and also, the consequences in the age of social media are serious, not just to us, but when one of us screws up, it affects all of us.  In spite of that pressure, and perhaps occasionally, because of that pressure, we all make mistakes. Some mistakes are bigger than others and some consequences are bigger than others, but we’re all going to fail at times.  

It’s also important to remember to forgive yourself, which is often more difficult than forgiving others.  

After my elk hunt this year, I find myself forgiving my friend for not making the same decisions I would have made if roles were reversed.   Also, I’m trying to forgive myself for cutting out of my second camp earlier than I should. 

Even in forgiving my friend, I feel the need to forgive myself.  It was my assumptions and not his words that got me into the mess I was in.  He never committed to helping me, he only said I could tag along.  I should have known better.  I should have set clear expectations with him earlier so I could have made other arrangements.  It’s not fair to him to expect him to make the same decisions I would have made.  

Mostly though, I need to forgive myself for abandoning my second camp when I did.  I let the circumstances of attempting to get to my first camp irrationally influence my decision making regarding the second camp.  When all the hunters pulled out and left, when several of them told me the elk were doing the same, I allowed that to justify my fear of being out there alone and decided I too should pack up and leave.  I should have stayed there.  I should have trusted my ability to survive in the extreme cold.  I should have trusted my orienteering skills and my Garmin GPS as a back-up.  I should have spent at least a couple days wandering through the woods looking for elk.  

After getting stuck on the side of a mountain, miles from the next person the day before, my fear was understandable.  However, that fear was something to be conquered, not something to be conquered by.  That night was the first night I had ever spent alone camping and it got down to zero that night…

…and I was fine.  That should have buoyed my confidence.

This trip also finds me trying to forgive an unknown hunter.  While glassing some sagebrush I came across a dead 3x4 mule deer buck.  He hadn’t been dead long, there was steam coming from his body cavity and he was still in rigor.  The shot placement might have been a bit low, but it wasn’t that bad, he couldn’t have run that far after being shot.  However, there he laid, and there was not another hunter around me for twenty miles. If he’d been shot late the night before, he should have been tracked the next morning.  If the hunter had come upon him, already chewed up by coyotes, they still should have punched their tag.  Maybe this hunter couldn’t find him and did the right thing by punching their tag, but the feeling in my gut is this deer should have been found (you could have pulled your truck within 100 yards of it).  However, after a certain point, anger serves no purpose, I am choosing to give this hunter the benefit of the doubt and forgive them.

At the end of the day, forgiveness means you’ve learned a lesson.  One you hopefully won’t make again.  Whether it is forgiving yourself, or needing to forgive someone else, you’ve walked away from the situation wiser than you were before. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for all of us.