By Craig Jourdonnais for the Havre Daily News
Elk Doctor's Oath:
Give a person an elk feed them for a year.
Teach a person to hunt elk and they just might starve.
"What is the most common injury for elk hunters?" a dark-haired, well-dressed writer asked me earlier this fall. Surprised at how quickly the answer welled up in my middle-aged brain, I blurted back, "A broken heart!"
This local journalist laughed at my response. Failing to find the humor, I excused myself, hung my head and shuffled out of the room. Her question brought up a lot of baggage and painful memories of retreating elk that most experienced elk hunters try to keep tamped into the dark recesses of their spirit. An elk-induced broken heart is a wretched malady with few antidotes.
The cause is straight forward-any close encounter with elk during a legal hunting season. Symptoms manifest in the most humbling fashion and intensify dramatically if the encounter is with more than one elk. The prognosis for recovery is even worse when the encounter occurs within 50 yards of your position.
Initial symptoms include the constant shaking of extremities, followed by a weak stomach and irregular breathing. Finally, anxiety racks your body and throws all your senses into a virtual tailspin.
The results are empty brass, empty freezer, an over abundant elk population and, of course, your broken heart. But hunting always seems worth the risk.
Elk doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the role of the spiritual in the healing process. An elk hunt has many layers to it, like the skin of an onion. There's your favorite drainage, favorite patch of timber, the smell of elk, the sight of elk legs moving through the timber. If you hunt an area long enough, you begin to create names for specific locations, like Spike Ridge, The Basin and Red Antler Knob.
Then there's elk camp. The sounds and smells of a crackling fire, the muffled lantern light seeping through the sides of a wall tent, and the companionship of your fellow hunters, all in some phase of recovery from a blown encounter with an elk. When hunters evaluate the inner core of the hunt, they find something far bigger than themselves that hunting is a gift, with an element of a spiritual journey.
While treatments of an elk-induced broken heart vary, the most common treatment requires you to share your story with someone else. Even if you bore them to tears. Why? Because telling elk hunting stories is important therapy, it is part of a time-tested healing tradition.
Even pre-Gortex man sitting around campfires knew elk hunting stories are fluid, resilient, never to be told just once. A single rendition doesn't allow you to build yourself up over time. It doesn't allow you to talk yourself into being an efficient predator nor build up the craftiness of your prey. Elk hunting stories demand evolution, they scream for embellishment. Really, it's the only sure-fire cure.
Total recovery from an elk-induced broken heart is a slow, tedious endeavor. Don't cheat yourself.