Nothing drives me crazier than hunting with Harold. Harold hunts with the wind at his back, calls at the worst possible times, hikes through prime bedding areas at midday, breaks every branch and twig in sight during every stalk, doesn’t believe in glassing, and can sit still for no longer than 3.5 minutes at a time. To top if off, he went completely deaf in one ear about 10 years ago and lost his ability to locate the origin of sounds. I can’t count the times we’ve had bull elk screaming within yards of our setup, only to watch Harold go against our agreed-upon plan and make a stalk 180 degrees in the complete opposite direction. He will disappear, going on “walkabout” for hours and return to camp with a pocket full of interesting rocks. My frustrations are magnified by his every move in the woods, and I swear each time we hunt together will be the last.
Last year was no exception. Record drought conditions hit New Mexico hard, and we were frustrated and struggling to locate elk in the Gila National Forest. Nonetheless, Harold located a monster bull, feeding broadside at just under 200 yards. Instead of taking the shot, he decided to close the distance, crawling to within 50 yards of the only giant elk we’d seen in nearly a year and the first legal bull we had a chance at killing the entire hunt. When Harold finally got the bull in his scope, it was walking into the junipers, half spooked and gone for good. Everyone in camp was dejected to learn of the blown opportunity, but not Harold. He gave his mustached Pancho Villa smile, laughed, and informed everyone he would kill that bull the next morning.
In spite of my frustrations, damn near everything I know about hunting is a result of Harold’s tutelage. His scarred and hardened hands have steadied my shoulder before and after many kills. He gutted my first deer and has spent many a day packing my elk out of backcountry hellholes. Most importantly, his presence at my side reminds me to relax and enjoy each step and moment of every hunt. If a stalk is blown because of a broken branch or bad breeze, I am the pissed picture of dejection. However, in Harold’s mind, it is simple: The kill wasn’t meant to be and he was fortunate to even see an animal.
Though I see myself as driven and focused during hunts, Harold will tease me for being too serious, eat a tin of sardines, take a nap, wake up and kill a bull while I am doing a solo panther creep in a patch of the steepest, nastiest and darkest timber on the mountain. Somewhere, somehow, Harold figured it out. He disregards technology, throws convention and his scent to the winds, yet enjoys every second of every hunt and puts meat in the freezer nearly every season.
What we can take from him is the knowledge that hunting is truly a simple act based on the appreciation of an experience. Many of us tend to dress that experience in expensive camo and gear, judging a hunt by how radical the terrain was and how big the rack on the wall is. But, by keeping it simple and reduced to its basic form, Harold will teach you that the beauty of every hunt is found in the most benign and unexpected moments. Typically those moments come from sharing the wild with those that are closest to you. In his mind, focus and appreciation are lost when a hunt is based solely on the kill and no blown stalk or unsuccessful hunt is worth dejection, anger or disappointment in the woods. His freezers are always loaded, and the rafters of his garage are lined with rows of dusty antler – Harold’s take home is measured in laughter, campfire stories and sunrises.
So it was that Harold returned the following morning to where he’d seen the giant bull. This time he saw a bull grazing in the early morning light and Harold killed it as the sun rose over the East rim of our favorite canyon. It wasn’t the long-tined behemoth of the previous evening, but a fat bodied young bull taken with a pocket full of agates, and shot with family at his side. A hunt and kill that were meant to be.
As I watch my infant son sleep, I can only imagine that one day I will teach him to see the world through the eyes of Harold, or better yet, that we will both share a hunt with his grandfather, Harold.