We stepped out of the truck into an ocean of stars on a morning that promised a transition from hot to cold. The Milky Way painted a swath across the sky, enough light traveling across the void to distinguish rock from rut, grass from vine. Shooting light was nearly an hour away and we thought the elk would be working up the valley and across a high meadow headed for the trees where they’d spend most of their day. That’s where we intended to catch them. Our boots had barely hit the ground before we heard the first bugles. They were everywhere, close by, and we were in the middle.
The group of us, three from Mississippi and three from Kentucky, stood frozen in our tracks. The closest bugle was less than a hundred yards away and getting closer. We were pinned down in the road, us and our truck hidden from view by a high dozer berm on our uphill side. We were in the middle of a reclaimed coal mine, miles from anything that looked like civilization, and there was nowhere any of us would have rather been.
Whatever part of the country we call home, the excitement and traditions we share as hunters unite us in a common language in a way nothing else can. The frustrations and pitfalls of hunting often defy words to describe them, but we all know them. Likewise the greatest joys and excitements of hunting exceed anything most readers would believe, but we all love them.
Standing on a Kentucky hillside trying not to breathe too loudly, checking the wind and urging the world to turn a little faster while thinking about how long forever might be, the special magic of the outdoors was the same for each of us, just as it is for all of us. The proximity to nature and time hunting creates is its own reward, although there is still such a thing as too close.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.