Monday, 21 May 2007

Dear Mr Elk 5-4-3-2-1 coming ready or not!

Getting Inspired

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, by Saxton Pope (1875 - 1927)

Inspired by Ishi the last of the Yana people and Robin Hood. The surgeon, bow hunter, and Edwardian wag Dr Saxton Pope offers this thesis on bow craft and hunting. Thanks to the non-profit Guttenberg project the book can be downloaded for free!

While the book is a thorough and enthusiastic introduction to making your own bow, arrows and hunting kit, it was also the first time I learned of ‘Ishi’ the last of the Yana people who lived to the east of Sacramento before the arrival of (or invasion by) Europeans.
In 1911 Ishi, the last living Yana, starved and disheveled, walked out of the Stone Age and into the 20th century. The game scared away and the rivers poisoned by ranchers and cattle he must literally have been at the end of his world. At first he was found by the local constabulary and as no one present could speak his language he was deemed to be ‘mad’ and incarcerated. His arrival, coming only thirty-eight years after the Mill Creek genocide of his people, was announced in the local paper. Professor T. T. Watterman, of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, came to Oroville to investigate. By some stint of good fortune the professor had a few words of the Yana language and was able to offer some comfort to Ishi and to give him shelter at the University.
Everyone has their own symbolic ‘Ishi’ political, spiritual and to some of us the ultimate expression of the bush-crafter as craftsman and hunter. He lived at the university where he worked as a janitor and living exhibit demonstrating his skills as a knapper, bowyer and fletcher.
Here is where Dr Saxton Pope joins the story: a surgeon by trade and something of a wag and an athlete by disposition, Dr Pope became Ishi’s physician and latter his friend and pupil in all things toxophilic.
Dr Pope himself is from a time that has passed, while his language and views are those of a man of his social standing almost a hundred years ago. His wit and wisdom come across as clearly today as they would have beside the campfire.

“ must have a good pair of legs. If automobiles, elevators, and general laziness have not ruined your powers of locomotion, you may follow the dogs; otherwise, you had best stay at home.”

At a time when ‘progress was all, biggest was best, and most powerful meant most right, Dr Pope must have been quite the contrarian; befriending an ‘Indian’ learning his language and hunting techniques. And taking to the wilderness with a ‘child’s plaything’ in pursuit of the largest predators North America had to offer.

“She undoubtedly would have been right on us in another second. The outcome of this hypothetical encounter I leave to those with vivid imaginations.”

Along with his physical courage what comes across in the book is his enthusiasm: whether it be for hunting Grizzly bears (Ursus Horribilis) on foot, armed only with “old horrible’, (a bow of his own construction), or his love and respect for his friends.

“I learned to love Ishi as a brother, and he looked upon me as one of his people. He called me Ku wi, or Medicine Man; more, perhaps, because I could perform little sleight of hand tricks, than because of my profession.”

After Ishi’s death from TB most of Dr Pope’s expeditions were with his great friend Arthur ‘Art’ Young.

“It seems as if Fate had chosen my hunting companion, Arthur Young, to add to the honor and the legends of the bow.”

My personal favorite, gives a clue to the twinkle in Popes eye when he says

“Young is so abstemious that even tea or coffee seem a bit intemperate to him, and are only to be used under great physical strain; and as for profanity, why, I had to do all the swearing for the two of us.”

Wag, Edwardian gent, contrarian, friend and philosopher Dr Pope lead the American bow-hunting renaissance. Championing ethical hunting and the defense and preservation of the wilderness long before such interests appeared in the pubic imagination.

“All that we have done is perfectly possible to any adventurous youth, no matter what his age.”

You can download the book for free from the Guttenberg project

I love this book and hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and between it’s pages find the inspiration to take to the field in pursuit of breakfast lunch and dinner.

Why am I doing this?

To awake from my comfortable homeostasis, rediscover my physical self and embark on the adventure of reconnecting with the natural world. Fat and lazy as I am, I get the feeling it’s going to be a rude awakening! I live in one of the most highly urbanised societies on earth, and it shows. Mainly around the middle!

Hunt, and kill a massive Elk with a bow. To skin it, butcher it, put it’s meat on the table and in the freezer, hang its skull and antlers on the wall, spread its hide across our bed and love-wrestle Mrs Bushwacker on top of it in its honour.

Between here and there:
Lose quite a lot of weight, gain quite a lot of muscle, develop endurance, learn archery, learn bushcraft and stalking skills, choose then buy (or trade for) all the kit needed to trek out into the wilderness, kill and bring back the body of my noble prey.

Why Hunting?
Ever since I started eating meat again, I was vegetarian for a few years in my teens and early twenties, I have felt a growing need to have an honest (and some would say blood thirsty) relationship with my dinner.
I’ve noticed a lot of hunters refer to killing an animal as ‘harvesting’, just as there is no polite word for a euphemism, on this blog killing is called killing. I’ve met too many people who can/will only eat something if its origin is obscured. Fish, but only if it does not have a head, prawns without their shells, chicken but only when it comes from a plastic tray, and then only the white meat. These are people are afraid of their dinner. Our food deserves our respect. On the days when our skill and tenacity overcomes the animals guile and awareness, we earn the right to eat the flesh of another being. If you cant (or won’t) kill it, gut it, cut it, and cook it what gives you the right to eat it? I believe in celebrating and honouring the life that is taken so we may live.

Why Elk Hunting?
1.Stone sheep aside, it’s renowned as the hardest hunt there is.
2.You get a lot of meat from one success, and my time is limited

Why Bow Hunting?
To me bow hunting is a pure unadulterated expression of man’s ingenuity and the spirit of the hunt. With a HS Precision loaded with 200 grain .300 Winchester Magnum you can shoot to kill at 400 yards*. The commitment and skill required to kill ‘up close and personal’ with a bow is something such a noble adversary deserves.

* How do I know? During my only rifle hunting experience, with zero tuition I shot and killed a moving White Tail Deer at 100 yards+ with the first shot I ever fired from a (non air powered) rifle.