I frantically emptied my pack on the side of the Montana mountain. I was looking for the most inexpensive, yet important item every pack should have. Alas, there was no toilet paper to be found. The only thing that resembled paper was an unfilled New Mexico elk tag that cost the better part of $1,000. It was perhaps the most expensive wipe in human history. As I thought about the irony of that precious piece of paper, I realized that what made it important was the memories it made for me before it was forced to perform its final shameful task.
It wasn’t the first tag I haven’t filled, and it wasn’t the last one either, but it did represent one of the best hunts I’ve ever had, even though I didn’t kill a bull. On that particular hunt, I messed up a great opportunity on the biggest bull I’ve ever shot at. He was a true New Mexico giant, and I totally blew the shot. I also got to experience my lifelong buddy harvesting his first elk with a bow, and I spent a lot of quality time in camp with my wife and two sons. My boys were at that awesome adventuresome age where they spent their entire time catching every poisonous insect and bug that New Mexico had to offer. I learned that centipede always beats tarantula in a one-on-one matchup, and that nature isn’t very nurturing at the bug level. I also passed up six different bulls on the last night of my season with my oldest son standing beside me running the video camera.
The only thing that would have ruined that hunt is if I had harvested one of those elk that last night. None of the bulls were what I came to New Mexico for. It was more satisfying to willingly choose to go home empty-handed as the last light faded into darkness. Later that night, as my son and I rode the four-wheeler back to camp, we experienced one of the most torrential monsoons I’ve ever witnessed. It rained so hard that our ATV road turned into a small river that we basically bounced down like an unruly boat.
In short, that hunt was packed with too many memories to count, and that special piece of paper made it all happen. As you head into the woods this fall, I’d like to remind all of our members to keep things in perspective. On average, 9 out of 10 over-the-counter archery elk tags will go unfilled. That’s proof that you can’t control the outcome of every hunt, but you can control your perspective and remind yourself just how lucky you are to head into the woods each and every time.
My good friend, Francis Cameron, is about as close to mastering hunting perspective as you can get. While he’s an incredibly good hunter, he’s also eaten his fair share of tag soup. In fact, he’s pictured here surrounded by all of his unfilled tags, about which he says, “Personally, I look at that stack of tags and am filled with great reverence and pride. Consistent with my family values, they are rich in experiences and relationships.”
He goes on to say, “Chances are that if you hunt, you’ve got a few unfilled tags. My hope is that a new perspective may help you develop a taste for the bittersweet flavor of tag soup. It’s a recipe that’s meant to be shared...because it’s filled with so much good.”
Best of luck to each of you this fall, and remember that with the right perspective, every tag will provide some form of “success.”