Elk Legs & Pickup Trucks

Dealing with the gore of hunting season.

Our days are much shorter now, the rays of sun have faded in intensity, and the blades of grass have lost their luster. Although the leaves of autumn have merely begun, winter calls to us from around the corner with a northern chill in the air. The Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations have gone up within weeks of each other. As the elk begin to bugle in the far distance, reminding the grizzlies that it’s time to feast before winter hits, we too, the locals of this valley, have a way of knowing that it’s hunting season again.

It occurs quite frequently around this town. You’re stopped at a traffic light on Main Street, and right there next to you is a Toyota Tacoma with not one, but four elk legs sticking straight up in the air. And there you are, waiting for the light to turn green, stuck next to the big dead animal.

You can’t help but stare at the beast, sometimes getting a glimpse of its tongue hanging out of its mouth or its tremendous rack projecting out of the bed. Then you notice the hunter and evaluate him to his hunt. You know by the size of the thing how hard he worked to pull it down from the mountain (unless he cheated and used a four-wheeler). And you know that if there was any way for him to position the animal with its rack fully exposed—so that others can count the points—then that’s exactly what he did.

Of course there is the amount of time it took for the hunter to track and finally nail the shot. That’s assuming that he is speaking the truth when he relates the story of his kill. I’ve known hunters to shoot deer in the buttocks, never to find the animals again. Interesting how they casually omit these stories from their repertoires of hunting tales.

Nevertheless, the hunter sits proud in his Toyota pickup—perhaps because his role of hunter and gatherer has been fulfilled to some degree. More likely, it is the more visceral and tangible rewards of the hunt. Not only can you admire your prize by hanging a six-point above the couch (if it’s okay with the missus, that is), but it also brings food to the table. You’ve got your elk steaks, elk sausage, elk hamburger, and elk jerky all winter long. “Honey, wanna have elk for dinner tonight?” (Like last night, and the night before…)

That’s why you see them, elk legs and pickup trucks, all over town, headed to their favorite butcher shop. Which reminds me of my first and only visit to that strange place where furry carcasses are transformed into tasty steaks. I rode over with a friend who had skinned the elk himself, wrapped it in garbage bags (much like a badly gift-wrapped lamp), and shoved it in the back of his Jeep. And I mean shoved it—I couldn’t help but notice the meaty-red flesh poking out of the garbage bag as the thing’s front legs dangled between us over the console. I rode all the way out to the butcher’s with my body sucked up against the door, terrified that one of the legs would flop over and slide across my arm.

When we got to the butcher shop, there were several hunters dropping off their pride and joy, and others picking up what was left of it. First of all, the smell was unbelievable. Like stinky old socks mixed with rank meat that you found in your cooler from last month’s rafting trip.

I walked in and I walked out and that’s when I saw them. The buckets. Alongside the building were buckets for the heads, buckets for the feet, and buckets for whatever else fell off. Just as I grasped the reality in front of me, the garage door opened and like a bad horror flick where all the missing people are found hanging in the closet, there they were, hanging by their elk legs, completely skinned and baring only their intricate designs of fresh, toned muscle, ready to be transformed into enough white packages to fill a freezer.

Needless to say, my emotions overcame me and I felt very sad. Allow me to note here that I am not against hunting. I respect the thrill of it for the hunter. I will even eat the meat on occasion, or help you prepare a nice elk stroganoff. But my feminine energy, as much as it fights for its place among the predominant maleness of the Gallatin Valley, cannot be denied or suppressed when dead things surround me.

One thing I ask of you dear hunters while you sit patiently in the field waiting for the right time to pick your prize—remember the spirit of the elk. Elk embody the power, strength, stamina, and nobility of the animal kingdom. The elk teaches lessons in mutual cooperation for the good of the whole. When the bull elk bugles, try to hear this as a symbol of love. Remember that his mesmerizing mating call is a helper in finding love on the mountain’s grassy meadows and timber-covered slopes.

Deer and elk bow-hunting season begins in early September, followed by general deer and elk rifle-hunting in late October. Good luck finding the big one this year. But please, for the rest of us, how about a compromise—put a topper on the back of that truck, okay?