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Out of Bounds

Bucket List Checkoffs

Hunters know there’s no better way to learn a place than to hunt it

By Rob Breeding

I like to play those “How many of these?” list games that pop up on social media. One popular version provides a list of unusual foods and asks “How many will you eat?” 

My answer is inevitably “All of them,” even if liver is on the list. I’m not terribly fond of the organ, but worked into a proper pâté, I’m game.

And then there are the lists of places you’ve been (not enough) or things you’ve done (also, not enough). 

Not being able to say I’ve been to Italy makes me sad, but I haven’t given up. 

On the other hand, whenever the list includes “Successfully hunted all species of quail native to the United States?” I know I’ll take pride in checking off that box, once I create a list that includes that accomplishment, of course.

These lists have a bucket-list vibe. There’s my Italy thing. I want to eat the four Roman pastas in the Eternal City, then visit Palermo, on the island of Sicily, where my people come from. 

I’d also like to spend enough time fly fishing in the Caribbean so I could say I’ve made a legitimate effort pursuing a flats slam: bonefish, tarpon and permit. 

At this point, I’d be happy with just a solid effort, since in the case of a flats slam, that effort involves fly fishing in the Caribbean. I’m pretty sure that’s about as pain-free as effort gets. 

One thing I’ve learned from my previous quests for outdoor nirvana — killing a 6X6 bull elk on Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks was one such quest, as well as that quail slam — is that the reward is in the effort, not the culmination.

The elk quest drove me to spend two hunting seasons on the Peaks, an extinct volcano that looms over one of the nicest cities in the Southwest: Flagstaff, Arizona. The Peaks possess major mojo for the indigenous Navajo and Hopi people, as well as later Spanish and Anglo settlers. Geographically, the state of Arizona, from all four corners, quite literally rises up to Humphreys Peak, the tallest remaining shard of what was once a much taller stratovolcano, at 12,637 feet.

Hunt camp is great, but what’s even better is hunt camp that includes your own bed. When I lived in Flagstaff, hunting the Peaks meant all the comforts of home, other than the 3 a.m. alarm clock necessitated by the half-hour drive and twice as long hike to the high meadows where the big bulls hung out.

Those two elk seasons — understand that in Arizona when you draw an elk tag it’s for a week-long season carved from the longer general hunting season (that’s how you spread out hunting opportunities in a state with more than 7 million humans but just a sliver of elk as compared to the Northern Rockies states) — were intense deep dives into those special mountains. 

Hunters know there’s no better way to learn a place than to hunt it. 

But when I finally killed my Arizona 6X6 bull, well, the fun was over and the work began. We weren’t finished hauling that old boy two miles out of a roadless area until about 36 hours after I made the shot that killed him. 

I’m glad I went on that quest. I’m glad I killed that elk, as well as the cow elk I killed in the same unit the season before. Those animals fed my family for more than two years, a fact I never hesitate to bring up when the topic of my daughters’ current shameful vegetarian lifestyle comes up. 

I’m not sure they ever devoured any food as they did elk breakfast sausage. They raced through our stores of links almost as fast as I the backstrap filets.

How many foods that you once loved have you since permanently sworn off?

Happy to say my answer is zero.

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