Aspen Princess: Thrill of the elk hunt better when it’s over

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

Last Sunday, Ryan came home with two giant bull elk stuffed into the back of his truck.

As I approached the vehicle, I could see the silhouette of the animal’s antlers, or “rack” as hunters love to call it, often in the same tone and with the same bravado as when they use this term to refer to a woman’s breasts.

This was a living, breathing, and beautiful creature, like yesterday. Then, in an instant, he was killed. Fatally wounded by one bullet; murdered, really — and the hands of my beloved husband, who is really a very sweet, happy, loving kind of guy. Not at all your serial killer type.

On the other hand, we’d have a year’s worth of meat. And not just any meat but the cleanest, most organic product possible that tastes like beef but better and can be used for everything from steaks to tacos.

I decided to have a look, what, considering my husband was so happy and proud he could hardly contain himself. Normally exhausted after a weekend of hunting, he was exuberant, even giddy. His ruddy, windburned cheeks made him look lit from within, like some kind of deranged jack-o’-lantern. It was as if the adrenaline were still surging through him, his hair sticking out every which way like he’d been electrocuted.

He looked a little crazed.

When he opened the tailgate, my breath caught in my throat. The animal’s head was in full view. His eyes were still open, his mouth wide enough to see his teeth. He was monstrous. Ryan estimated he weighed over 800 pounds.

“Check this out,” Ryan said, grabbing the antlers with one hand like he were yanking on a suitcase. My stomach twisted. “He was a brawler. See how the antlers on one side are broken?” I shuddered as he prattled on, talking about how he could have the broken antlers restored and made into a complete rack — for display purposes of course — but that he wanted to leave it broken.

“OK, OK, OK,” I said, cutting him off. “I’m cold. I’m going inside.”

I tried not to think about the things Ryan had done to this animal in the past 24 hours. First, he shot it. Then he had to field dress it, which is just a nice way of saying gutting it and cutting it into four pieces. After sitting in the freezing cold covered in blood and guts, he’d had to hike up and down the mountain four times that day, carrying as much weight as he could manage with each trip. Then he had to load it onto his back and carry it down the mountain and back to camp where it was crammed into the back of his truck.

“It’s just like fixing a disposal,” he said. “You’re up to your elbows in muck, but you just keep hacking away at it until it’s done.”

When he walked into the house, the smell of blood and death wafted off him; that irony, pungent smell that is unmistakable yet hard to identify. Sensing my reaction, he beelined it for the shower, stopping only to throw his clothes into the washing machine along the way.

It was disgusting yes, but sexy as hell. Does it get any more manly than that? Not to mention the balls it must take to pull the trigger in that rare (very, very rare) moment you have an animal in your sight. To make that decision, to take the power and control over life, over nature, over fear and even respect and admiration for this majestic and beautiful animal.

Ryan had only killed one other elk in his life, 45 minutes into his first hunt 10 years ago. It was some kind of crazy beginner’s luck. I assumed once was enough for him as he never really seemed to care about getting another one. He always came home talking about how he enjoyed just being out there in the woods, learning about the animals as he tracked them and spending time in the wilderness with his friends. He never sighted his gun, never went to target practice, never talked about it much, except to whine about all the time and preparation involved, only to follow up any complaint with an explanation about why it was worth it.

Once, he’d been hunting when he suddenly found himself in the middle of a stampede. The very animals he intended to kill had decided to run by him, almost through him, in an earth-shattering, thunderous explosion of force that could have easily killed him. He described it as an almost spiritual experience, without actually calling it that. I knew he liked being an observer.

I also knew that when the temperatures dropped and the snow fell the night he arrived at camp that the conditions were optimal. I somehow knew my husband would take that shot. With most things, he’s an off-the-couch kind of guy. He doesn’t have to rehearse or prepare to perform. Even if he has no clue how to do something, he’ll pretend he does, and it usually works out for him. It’s an unshakable confidence that has always astounded me.

Even though I don’t love the idea of killing animals (I always thought it was an unfair fight, considering the elk don’t also get to carry guns), I’ve learned over the past 10 years to appreciate it. Elk are sometimes referred to as “the ghosts of the forest” because of how hard they are to hunt. I appreciate that he has provided for us a significant amount of food that left virtually no carbon footprint. I am especially grateful considering I have stopped eating meat during the week for environmental reasons and avoid beef altogether unless I know where it came from.

I certainly know where this meat came from, though I am relieved that the hunt is finally over.

The Princess is sharpening her knives and heating up the oven. Email your love to


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