History in Focus: The pursuit of an animal | CraigDailyPress.com

History in Focus: The pursuit of an animal

The past two weekends, my waking hours were devoted to a long-awaited hunt for a “trophy” mule deer in unit 201 in the far northwest corner of Moffat County. The rugged territory of Diamond Peak, Cold Springs Mountain and other areas of the unit helped me consider ideas about the American West and the nature and purpose of hunting in our modern society.

Western historian Elliott West has noted the vast openness of the West has held a double meaning for Americans. At times it has been viewed as an area to be conquered, tamed and made productive.  Conversely, the West has also been treasured as an idyllic and untrammeled vision of Eden-like nature, a place to revive the soul. These two ideas came into focus for me during this hunt.

Seeking to conquer the life of a wily mule deer buck in his environs puts all senses on edge while looking for clues to his whereabouts. During the short days of a hunt, life develops a singular purpose. Thoughts, ideas and conversation are dominated by the goal to conquer, perhaps the same urge that drove millennia of humans to spread over the face of North America.

At the same time, the weather and the terrain force you to absorb the beauty of the natural world.  The stamp of human existence is everywhere in unit 201. Yet, the enormous quiet surrounding the sagebrush, lodgepole pines, Utah junipers and pinions laced with snow or the gathering of ominous clouds quickly puts the life of one man into a more humbled, ordered and sane perspective.  The reasons behind creation were easily discernible, and my personal struggles became less worrisome.

I also considered what hunting still means to modern America. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s much maligned and criticized Frontier Thesis argued that crossing a continent shaped our democracy, our institutions and our character, which then reverberated throughout the world.  

For a few fleeting weekends, one can still physically get into and feel Turner’s ideas, if one is willing to quit truck hunting and get off the beaten two-track. Hunting allows us to still dip into the past, and test our “rugged individualism,” a concept that still wonderfully echoes through our unique American identity.

Beyond the larger ideas of the West, hunting with Ethan Powers, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend, and my son, Patrick, created a deep and lasting memory. It is the camaraderie of a moment in time that we will always share and reminisce about. 

We had to observe, walk quietly, search deeply into craggy ledges, drop-offs into a basin and fields of low-lying sagebrush. We talked, strategized and created plans that mostly failed. Yet, we kept our hopes alive and convinced ourselves of the idea we were hunting the right way.   

The phantom big buck doesn’t like to be discovered. He might be just out of view in a deep draw or bedded down behind a scraggly pinion, and a few steps to one side or the other may reveal his presence. Patience and persistence were forced upon us after modernity’s best efforts to squeeze it out of us.

By late Saturday afternoon doubts were creeping into our mentality, and the gnawing possibility of getting beat by the elusive buck was becoming a reality. On our last afternoon foray, our hopes were suddenly reignited by distant sightings of an enormous buck pushing his does down a hill. The next several decisions to move in, remain hidden and stay upwind were tested to the limit by the ever alert buck.  

While we settled in, hidden behind a Utah juniper and a few rocks, our quarry quietly entered the scene and slowly revealed his massive form from behind rocks and bushes. The moment of truth had arrived, and the contradictions that are hunting came alive.

Intensity peaked with sweaty palms and a racing heart all the while I struggled to keep calm and settle the crosshairs of my scope on the vital organs of a beautiful animal. The minutes seemed like an hour. Finally, I squeezed the trigger on my intentions … a short struggle between life and death, and then it was all over. The buck was ours. The air was filled with ecstatic jubilation and a prayer of thanksgiving.  

For me, the pursuit of an animal combines so many vital elements important to our human nature. It is what makes hunting a spiritual and revealing experience, an endeavor that forces thoughtful reflection and gratitude for our history, our lands, and the truth of our reality and existence.

Hunting partners Patrick Neton, left, and Ethan Powers smile for a photo after a successful hunting trip.
James Neton/Courtesy photo

James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School and writes for the Craig Press part time. Contact him at jneton@craigpress.com.

More Like This, Tap A Topic
history in focushuntingouitdorrs

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.