Written by Andy Monsen
From the time I was a young girl, I hungered to be in the mountains. My family was not outdoory in the sense that is promoted, hunting and conservation. Their idea of being outdoors included; redneck bonfires, getting wasted and passing out by the lake. I recall being curious when I could hear the bugling of a bull, the howl of a wolf or the chirping of an unfamiliar bird.
The rule was, stay close to camp, to the grownups. Any other child might have been afraid; afraid of the big bad wolf that could swallow her up, or the grizzly that would take her back the den to feed her to the cubs. These were the images my granddad tried to portray, in order to keep me from wandering off.
His stories only aggravated my curiosity. What did these animals look like close up? What did an elk look like, up close and personal. So, I would sit on a log, Tweety Bird pole in hand, waiting for the adults to get buzzed enough, they wouldn’t notice my auburn hair, bouncing off into the trees.
I would hike far enough in, I could find my way back. Yet far enough, I could not hear the men hootin’ and hollerin’ as they threw firecrackers into the blazes. The trees always impressed me. I’d touch as many as I could, trying to find one that I could climb up with ease.
Once I found the perfect tree, I’d climb up, lay on a branch, lean into the comforting security of the massive trunk and wait. I would wait and listen. Part of me wondered,Is there anything I can do, any sound I could make, that would draw these animals closer to me?So close I could see the color of the eyes of a wolf; or feel the bugle of an elk on my skin.
Going home was always a challenge. I hated the drive back into the city. I hated the smog, walking out the front door and smelling cigarette smoke. I grew up extremely poor. Often times we found ourselves homeless, living out of tents, cars and hotel rooms. On nights when there was no food, no power and the cold was unbearable; I’d close my eyes. I would close them tight and take myself back into the mountains; feeling the strength of the timbers on my back and listening to the calls of the wild.
Fast forward stories for another time, I found myself newly remarried, with a blended family with seven children and feeling out of sorts with myself. When I was fourteen my family and I had been adopted, again another story for another time. Our new parents lived on a farm, one of my childhood dreams instantly coming true.
I would be up by 4:00 o’clock in the morning, ready to drive the old flatbed stick shift while dad fed the cows. I can still smell the hay, filled with sweet alfalfa, the crisp morning air and the cracked leather of the seats. I’d reach around the window of the truck, pull some of that alfalfa and savor it’s sweetness, breathing in deep and soaking in the memory.
On one of these chilly mornings, I expressed to my dad my desire to be in the mountains again. My pops was perplexed; he didn’t think, coming from the poverty level I did, I had ever been camping. I explained to him that it doesn’t cost much to drive out to a lake, camp and drink beer. I think dad could sense the need I had to be in the hills, because that spring he went and bought a camper. He knew the only way my mother would be down to go, is from the comfort of a home on wheels.
The first time we took out Big Bertha (appropriately named by my late brother), my kid brother Lance and I, were bouncing out our seats the entire time. The further up the mountain side we drove, the more our excitement grew. The truck hadn’t fully stopped before we were busting out the side door of the cab. We didn’t think twice about mosquitoes, ticks or sunburns, we were ready to feel the mountain air again.
When we approached the top of our hike, I soaked in the soft pine air, the sweetness of the dirt we kicked up onto our skin, mixed with the sweat of our hard work. And that began the first of many backpacking, hiking, mountain biking and camping trips.
However after I became a mother to 7 children, four of my children diagnosed with varying disabilities, I forgot what mountain air smelled like. My husband could tell I was struggling and so together we set out to find me a hobby, something I could do with the heavy workload of being a full time mother, working full time and taking care of our home.
With that, we bought a sewing machine. It never left the box. Scrapbooking was always out of the question, I felt frustrated, I did not fit the mold of a typical housewife. I would catch myself daydreaming of hunting and hiking in the mountains and feeling bitter when my husband was doing just that.
When I told him how badly I wanted to hunt, we set out to make that happen. I just had a baby, my fifth in six straight years. I was 250 pounds, feeling defeated, tired and further from the girl I knew years ago. Nevertheless, I still wanted to try. We got tags for my father-in-laws property and went out in mid October.
We drove up and down the country roads looking for herds of deers bedded down in the fields. We pulled up to the side of the road as we saw a field with twenty or thirty does. As we stopped, I pulled my rifle up and stood outside of the truck. My gun resting on the hood of the cab. I shot. She didn’t move, the rest of the deer bolted. My stomach dropped, I knew my first try was not successful. I shot again and she fell.
I approached my kill, filled with frustration and regret. I had blown out her knee the first round and spoiled the meat with a gut shot the second. In that moment I knew I didn’t want to rifle hunt. This was not what I imagined all those years ago as a young girl in the mountains, daydreaming about being as close to these animals as possible.
I told my husband I would only archery hunt. I knew that was the only way I would be able to achieve the intimacy I wanted in my hunts. There was no way I was going into this, with a half ass attitude either.
So Christmas of 2016, shortly after having my last baby, we bought my first bow. Spring of 2017 I started shooting daily. I built an instagram account to follow the best and most ethical hunters I could find. As accurate and consistent as my shooting was becoming, I knew that wouldn’t be enough. In order for me to push the limits, to be high in the back country, I’d need to push my body.
I believe, when someone wants something bad enough, if it really is important to you, you make it happen. I more than wanted this, I hungered for it, I craved it. This was an instinct I was born with, one we are all born with. The only way I would be close enough to the animals I wanted to hunt, was through archery.
I guess you could say I became “obsessed” with my bow, or at least that is what I was told. Yet in my mind, that is what it would take; complete and total dedication and self discipline. It has been a year since I first picked up my bow, I am down 100 pounds, my shots are consistent and accurate and I have two tags to fill this fall, both in units that will take me into the backcountry.
I am ready to be high and deep in the mountains. Stalking like the wolves that would serenade me as a little girl, daydreaming in the trees. For me hunting isn’t just a passion, or putting food on the table, it isn’t just about conservation either.
Hunting for me, is about connecting with God, his country and myself in a way that men was naturally made to do.
I’ve been called a bandwagon hunter; to which I never respond. These people don’t know me, my story of what I hunger for. It is my personal belief, that we all have an instinct to hunt, to gather. We want to be wanderers, adventures, wolves stalking the mountain. In my mind there is no such thing as a bandwagon hunter. No, I believe we were all, built to hunt.