Monday, September 26, 2022

I Eat Meat. Why Was Killing My Own Food So Hard?

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Set in a peaceful meadow, the practice range is, I’ll just say it, fun. Exhilarating. Team-building, like trust falls. Out here, in nature and benevolent hands, guns seem to me more sporty than evil.

 But shooting, accurately or otherwise, isn’t coming naturally. Was Sexy Spruce too big? Was my cheek weld too low? Shoulder pressure too weak? Rihana adjusts my stool. Amanda elevates my chin. Jen plants my foot firmly on the ground. How many women does it take to get a nice Jewish girl settled into proper eye relief? (Answer: six). Peering dizzily through the scope, I try to line up my crosshairs with the bull’s-eye. It feels as if I’m failing an eye exam, like I’ve shown up drunk to the ophthalmologist. 

“You’ll get it,” patient Dom promises. Eventually, hours later, as the hills burn gold, I do.


Day one of the hunt starts as hunts do: early. Legal shooting light begins a half hour before dawn and lasts precisely 30 minutes after sunset. Honestly, I’d never realized hunting had rules. I naively thought it was what the movies have long made it out to be: a trigger-happy, beer-guzzling, let’s-get-’em free-for-all. Hunting is not like that.

Aly, Jen, and I pile into a Toyota Tundra. With 150,000 acres—or a Zion National Park–size parcel—to ourselves, I drop “Dick Cheney accident” from my list of worries and leave my playing-it-extra-safe neon orange hat behind. But I clutch my multicolored Cotopaxi puffy coat like a security blanket.

As the inky sky streaks yellow, Jen turns to me, riding shotgun: “It’s time,” she laughs. Reluctantly, I wriggle into my new Sitka Optifade Subalpine outfit. Save my khaki Lululemon pants, I’m head-to-toe camo. Extreme Makeover: Hunter Edition.

Scanning for the flick of a female ear, we see only bulls. And a band of wild horses, flocks of turkeys, a lone bobcat, countless bison. Like elk, New Mexico’s bison population was decimated by commercial hunters by the late 1800s, but Vermejo’s conservation efforts over the past 26 years have taken its herd from zero to 1,200 strong. 

Pulling into the lodge after dusk, empty-handed, I feel relieved.


Dawn, the next morning, Jen and Aly spot a small herd of females bedded by a beaver pond 400 yards away. An experienced hunter might’ve gone for it. Not me. We let sleeping elk lie and press on. More bulls. More bison. A hundred pronghorn sprinting through the trees like a cross-country team taking off at the starting line.

The sun is sinking. The clock is ticking. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow and 100 mph winds. Hunting in that doesn’t sound fun. I’m still not certain hunting itself is fun. Then almost karmically—last light, last chance—there they are: at least 60 cow elk, scattered across a small valley backed by a steep hillside even the most agile animal would have a hard time climbing. Slinging my rifle over my shoulder like it’s a laptop bag, I march silently back toward the herd.

Ducking into the grass, Aly and I creep in slo-mo behind Jen, avoiding the crunch of pine cones, the snap of twigs, stopping mid-step when she does, like mimes playing freeze tag. They surely smell us. And likely see us, all those elk eyes with 280-degree vision. Okay, camo comes in handy. We look like the trees: unthreatening. Inching ever closer. Peering through Sexy Spruce’s scope, it’s elk in HD. Some are head down, eating. Others mill aimlessly, elegantly, like they’re bored at a garden party.

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