Motivations: My elk + deer season opens in 2 weeks

Mid-September in the upper Middle Fork of Boulder Creek in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness, GMU 29. There's much to love about hunting here.

Mid-September in the upper Middle Fork of Boulder Creek in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness, GMU 29. There’s much to love about hunting here.

Two weeks from yesterday is the start of Colorado’s second rifle season, for which my hunting partner Noel and I both have cow elk and buck deer tags for GMU 29, which encompasses the southern Indian Peaks Wilderness and Boulder’s foothills. I recognize that hunting is not supported by some fraction of my readers, most of whom follow me for information like this, this, and this, not hunting-related know-how. I respect your perspective, and in this post I’d like to share mine.

This summer has been very productive: successful thru-hikes of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route and Wind River High Route, and a third place finish at Run Rabbit Run 100. I hope that my streak continues, though I fear that the key ingredient in my earlier successes — hard work and time — has not been similarly invested in this hunt. Nonetheless, here’s why I’m giving it a go:

1. Protein

In the past I have been a full-on vegetarian (no meat) and an economic vegetarian (limited meat when I was “living the dream” as a backpacking bum). But I have found that a diet centered around quality meats and fresh produce achieves better results for me: I’m faster, stronger, leaner, healthier, and more durable.

So I want meat protein in my freezer. That brings me to my next rationale:

2. The source of my meat

When I buy meat at the grocery store, I try not to think about its likely history: unnatural feed, repulsive CAFO’s, mass slaughter, and enormous processing facilities. Premium and local meat should be better, but probably still not entirely immune from some aspects of modern industrial agriculture.

In contrast, the elk and deer meat that I hope to harvest is organic, grass-fed, cage free, and humanely treated. Best of all, maybe, is that it will force me to directly confront the ethical dilemma of a meat-eater: that it necessitates the killing of another animal.

Planning an ambitious route in the Colorado high country after the end of September? Think again, or hope to get lucky. Noel in the Gore Range on October 12, 2014.

Planning an ambitious route in the Colorado high country after the end of September? Think again, or hope to get lucky. Noel in the Gore Range on October 12, 2014.

3. An excuse to get outdoors in October

Fall conditions in the Colorado high country are tough: brisk daytime highs and sub-freezing nighttime lows, longer nights and a weak mid-day sun, and the gradual accumulation of snow. Like May and June, October and November are ‘tweener periods, when conditions are no longer conducive to last season’s activity of choice (backpacking) but not yet primed for the next season’s (skiing).

An October hunt is better than staying low in Boulder, where I’m reduced to raking leaves, watching Peyton Manning, and dreaming about my next backpacking trips still nine months away.

4. Never stop learning

As a backpacker, I’m still evolving. Since cutting my teeth on a summertime thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2002, I’ve learned how to thrive in vastly different environments, to hike off-trail, to ski and winter backpack, to compete in adventure races and ultra marathons, and even how guide trips, develop new routes, and write books. By branching out, I’ve avoided boredom.

I see hunting as a natural extension of backpacking, and an opportunity to gain new skills and knowledge. I doubt that I will ever self-identify as a hunter: I’ll buy a Subaru before a truck; Amanda would never let me wear camo year-round; and I sure as heck am not moving out of Boulder. But by becoming more hunter-esque, I remain as excited about backpacking as I was 13 years ago.

Posted in on October 3, 2015


  1. Dave on October 4, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Same reason why I hunt. It was influenced by The 100 Mile Diet when the authors had a chapter of when they were up in northern British Columbia and realized their vegetarian way of life wasn’t feasible outside of major urban centers.

    I have since then denounced the book after calculating the carrying capacity of each large city. But still, I like the idea that the meat is harvested with my own hands and not at some slaughterhouse.

    I will go back to eating grocery-bought meats if Canada opens up more slaughterhouses and better oversights, but they just keep shutting them down and increasing the volume that goes through the existing one and giving inspectors less time to go over each carcass.

  2. Adrian on October 4, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    With all due respect, these are lame excuses. Mankind hunted for protein a long time ago and then domesticated animals because it was easier. You could raise your own chicken if you want protein ok find a local farmer that does. Boulder county and Colorado is full of those places. Plus one of your reasons translates into: entertainment. Shooting wild animals just to keep your backpacking experience interesting? You might want to reconsider this new approach.

    • Andrew Skurka on October 4, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      I’m struggling to follow your argument.

      What is the difference between the killing of an animal by a farmer versus by me? You seem to think that the former would be better (I’m assuming that’s your MO), but really that’s just turning a blind eye to the task that it involves. By hunting, I’m confronting it directly, which I think is a more ethical position.

      And how are you interpreting my expressed desire to learn for “entertainment.” Entertainment is “The Martian” with Matt Damon, which I saw today and thoroughly enjoyed. Killing an animal with my own hands? That sounds like an entirely different experience, and one that I am neither anxious to perform nor one that I take lightly.

    • Dave on October 5, 2015 at 12:32 am

      While I understand the premise wildlife outside of major urban centers should be left alone, the sad fact is that there’s very little sources of revenues which go toward protecting them.

      The resource exploitation industry Is bigger than any one of is and donations won’t stop them from corrupting governments.. Unfortunately, the hunting, archery and gun industries subsidizes about 90% of the conservation projects and maintenance in the United States.

      There have been attempts to tax hikers and bird-watchers, but they rejected the very notion. They say mist pepole who buy gears don’t hike, but to be honest, most gin-owners and archers don’t hunt and yet still pay the hidden excise taxes.

      It makes no sense to deride a hiker’s choice to maximize autumn when the REI crowd is not on the same board as the hook and gun folks.

    • Sam H. on October 5, 2015 at 9:56 am

      The taking of the life of the animal that almost single-handedly provided my family with our entire past year’s worth of red meat needs was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever been through. Each and every time my family sits down to a meal that contains the bounty of our little spike buck deer I give thanks to him and what he has provided – and I’m not a religious, nor praying man. Calling Andy’s rationale lame is an affront to me, him, and other respectable and caring food providers whose goal is to provide local, sustainable, and humane food for themselves and their family.

  3. steve sims on October 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Get some BRO! Glad to see you have added deer to the elk. You guys have a much better chance to come out with some meat. SIMS

  4. James on October 5, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Hey Andrew thanks for publishing this – the more people hear this exact discussion, the more that may start to see hunting in a different light. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time, and suprisingly the “heat” to explain. The satisfaction of getting your own wild, lean protein really comes to head when you’re cooking it.

  5. IT on October 5, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Awesome write up man. What resources have you used to research into CO hunting? I am interested in checking out the hunting life, especially here in CO, but I don’t have anyone close to “guide” me through the ins and outs. How much did your buddy Noel help you out here? Do you think it would be feasible to start from scratch and teach myself (i.e. cleaning the game, transporting, best hunting areas, permits required, best rifles, storing meat, etc)? Or would it be best to try and branch out and make a friend who is already invested in to this hobby/lifestyle?

    I do have somewhat of a hunting background – grew up on a farm, gun owner, been duck hunting and squirrel hunting multiple times, but i’ve never REALLY been in to it ya know?

  6. Vadim Fedorovsky on October 9, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Extremely interesting, thought provoking, and surprising piece here Andrew.

    I used to be a vegetarian for about five years.

    The first meat I ate when I went back was deer a friend of mine had hunted earlier in the season.

    It was meat from my own woods. Everything about it felt completely natural and organic.

    When meat is hunted, to me, it’s very similar to a wild vegetable or plant that is only available to experts who know how to find it.

    When I buy “factory meat” I can completely relate to how you feel…there’s that negative undertone to it all.

    Meat is extremely healthy and I absolutely love to keep it in my diet. I just definitely hate how buying it at the store never feels completely “right”.

    I support hunting and it’s something I know very little about but year after year (reading you experiences with it), I become more motivated to learn how to hunt.

    I assume that the absolute first thing to do is to take a hunter’s safety course? I am assuming it is required to get a hunting license in most states.

    Thank you


    • Andrew Skurka on October 11, 2015 at 8:20 am

      It sounds like I need to write a “Beginners Guide to Hunting” post since there are a few questions like this.

      To start hunting, you’ll need:
      * A hunter’s education course, which will allow you to get hunting licenses
      * Gear
      * To know how to butcher an animal
      * To hunt

      In my experience, the last part — “to hunt” — is the hardest part. This is where it’s invaluable to have family or friends who hunt. It’s really hard to make up for that knowledge if you only hunt a few weeks a year.

      • Doug K on October 30, 2015 at 4:49 pm

        “the last part — “to hunt” — is the hardest part. ”

        exactly so. I wrote in one of my hunt reports, how to hunt elk by the steps:

        001. get out in the woods where the animals are
        002. evaluate food and water availability, hunting pressure, terrain, weather for elk comfort level, which is lots colder than human comfort.
        … through …
        098, are all ‘find the elk’
        099. stalk into position
        100. shoot

        Step 1 is easy and enjoyable; I have complete confidence in my son to handle step 100; we can probably manage step 99; but steps 3 through 98 are a perfect mystery.

        I got into hunting big game only because my son wanted to do it. Having arrived there it seems to me an ethical way to get meat. No-one who isn’t a vegetarian, or has not visited an abattoir, gets to criticize hunting: they have no moral foot to stand on, never mind the moral high ground.

  7. Eric Rasmussen on October 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    You have put in words what I have felt since the first time I harvested my first animal

  8. Jon Paulding on October 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    HI Andrew- I share your passion for backpacking, ultra-running and learning how to elk hunt. There is no better way to truly get in tune with nature than to hunt. You will see things so much differently. And there is no more ethical way to get healthy meat. You might find this little video helpful if you are successful.
    I have taken 6 elk since embarking on my effort to teach myself this new skill and this method is the best by far. Good luck!

  9. Kirk on October 18, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Hey Andrew, it’s Kirk, I hope this year, you get your deer or elk. Hunting to me and many ethical hunters is many things. One a way to connect with nature on a more deeper level. Two a way to get the best organic meat, from an animal that lived as close to the way God or nature intended.Not one stuck in a pen and shot full of chemicals to fatten them up faster and then be processed, on a conveyor belt, I hate that concept, I never ate veal and now 99.9% of the time I never eat meat I or my friends didn’t get by hunting. If a person isn’t a vegan, and they are going to eat meat, at least the animal they are eating got to live out in nature, enjoy sunrises and sunsets and get to live as nature intended them to be. To reiterate once again what a person said above, when you harvest your own animal for meat, every time you have dinner you silently give thanks and respect to that animal for providing you with the nutrition and energy the animal provides. Once again I applaud you for taking this step, and if there is any furthor help I can provided, just let me know.

  10. CJ on January 6, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I took my first buck this year. I don’t think the emotional side every gets easier…or it shouldn’t. I hated pulling the trigger and taking a life but I feel so much better about knowing where it came from and the kind of life it had.

    I find absolutely no “entertainment” in shooting an animal, but I do find entertainment in being outdoors and in the mountains…they are two very separate aspects of the same activity.

  11. James Chiang on September 3, 2020 at 11:42 am

    Hi Andrew,

    I first learned your name through National Geographic years ago as a teenager. I had just gotten into backpacking, and had sewn my own “G3” packs from the plans produced by the owner of the now well-known company, “Gossamer Gear.” Now, as I stumble upon your website years later as I prepare for my first season hunting elk in the San Luis Valley, I find myself transported back in time to the state of wonder I experienced reading that article years ago.

    A friend of mine once described a person’s life work as a tree. One strand of your work serves as a trunk, providing support in exchange for sustained effort over the course of your life. From time to time, a new branch emerges and adds richness to the whole picture. Hunting is a branch for you, and one that I’m looking forward to nurturing in the years to come. I have a depth of experience playing (running, climbing, skiing) in the mountains but no experience hunting, and I can identify with your perspective and am grateful for the guidance in your articles.

    Another great mentor of mine with a similar background runs the recently opened Mount Hayden Backcountry Lodge outside of Ouray. He grew up as a climbing legend, and experienced a feeling of humility and cultural cross-over taking hunters-ed in a class composed entirely of 12-year-old boys and girls who were entertained by this grown man who had never fired a gun before. In the 4 years since he started on that journey, he has filled 5 elk tags without the use of a single drop of fossil fuel, hiking directly from his home to find the elk. This meat is the backbone of the meals he serves to guests at the lodge, who are mostly backcountry skiers with little connection to the world of hunting. They often express gratitude for the connection to their food. He’s an ambassador between seemingly different cultures in our nation, and proof that there’s plenty of overlap between them.


    • Andrew Skurka on September 3, 2020 at 12:15 pm

      You’re making me feel old, but I like your analogy so much that I’m willing to let it go.

      Hope the few articles I’ve written about hunting will help you move through the learning curve faster than I was able to. Here’s my favorite,

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