By Alex Escué Limkin
— We had just finished hiking and were taking a picture of our baby Escué lying in a snowdrift on the east side of the Sandias when the hunter came out of the woods carrying a crossbow.
His white luxury SUV had been at the trailhead when we arrived, partially blocking the entrance. After opening the rear hatch with his key fob, the hunter slid the crossbow into the cargo area, took off his camouflage clothes, and sat down. I could see that even his underwear was some form of camouflage. He started his engine but did not leave his parking space.
“I’m going to go throw a stick for AB,” I told my wife. I moseyed over to the SUV with my canine companion in tow.
The hunter was studying his phone. I squeezed past his car and looked around for a stick. There was one near his front tires. It looked like it had broken and fallen from the weight of the snow. I made a show of throwing the stick for AB a couple times.
I had just been on the trail with my wife, dog and infant son, and I didn’t like the idea of someone hunting so close to us, lurking around, stalking. What was he hunting up there in the Sandias with a crossbow, anyway? What was up there that needed killing?
After a couple throws, I gestured to him and he lowered his window. This is how I remember our conversation:
“Can I ask what you’re hunting up here?”
“Mountain lions,” he said. I nearly dropped the stick.
“Mountain lions? Really? I didn’t know there were any still up here. Thought we killed them all.”
“Oh, they’re up here.”
“The reason I’m asking,” I continued, “is because there’s a lot of families hiking up in these woods. Like me. With their dogs. It would be a tragedy if you made a mistake out there with that crossbow.”
“Anyone who would make a mistake like that has no business hunting.”
“True,” I said, “but it happens. Like when Cheney shot Rumsfeld in the face with a shotgun.”
The hunter didn’t blink. “I don’t know anything about that. Didn’t kill him, in any event.”
I fished around for a way to continue the conversation. There were so many things that needed saying. “You sure there are mountain lions up here?”
“Oh, they’re up here. There’s a 30-bag annual limit in the Sandias. But they don’t permit firearms. That’s why I’ve got the bow.”
I wondered who regulated and tracked mountain lion kills.
“What do you do to hunt them?” I asked.
“I got a call. I make a call just like a mountain lion makes, and any mountain lions in the area will come around and check it out. They’re territorial and don’t appreciate intruders.”
“Any luck with that?”
He shook his head. “Just a matter of time, though. With hunting, you have to be patient. Sometimes you wait your whole life for just one shot.”
I didn’t want to be there all day talking hunting, but I wanted him to know he wasn’t welcome with his crossbow so close to the city, with families and children around. I didn’t care if it was legal or not. But it had to be done delicately.
“Maybe there are some better places you could go than the Sandias,” I offered.
“There are, but I live in Albuquerque, and this is the closest place to hunt what I’m after.”
The truth is, it wasn’t only the safety of my family I was concerned with. I was thinking about the mountain lions, too. I was thinking about the bison and the carrier pigeon. I was thinking about how willing we are to kill wild things for entertainment, for sport, for pleasure or for economic growth. It has always been this way with us. I felt sick to remember the bison, the millions left to rot on the plains. And here we were, still at it. Still finding pleasure in killing. Still denying the sanctity of life.
I was going to launch into the story of Aldo Leopold, the conservationist who founded the Gila Wilderness. He hunted wolves until one day he reached a wolf in time to see the “fierce green fire dying in her eyes.” He never hunted again.
I wanted to tell him that many animals shot and wounded by hunters, particularly with bows, are never found, and are left to die a slow, agonizing death in the woods.
I wanted to tell him that once a bullet or arrow severs your spine and paralyzes you, you’re never the same hunter again.
I wanted to tell him that once you’ve been wounded in the way we wound animals, you’re never the same human being again.
But there is never enough time to tell people the things they need to know. And often, they don’t care.
Anyway, it was what I wanted to do and not what I wanted to say that was important. What I wanted to do, as soon as I saw what he was up to—desecrating life for sport—was break his crossbow over his head.
Instead, I used words.
“If you manage to find a mountain lion out here, or anyplace else, I hope you see a green fire in its eyes that changes your life forever.”
Then, there wasn’t anything more to say.
Author Alex Escué Limkin is forming an action and advocacy team, DVR-6, specializing in the recovery and aid of homicidal and suicidal veterans in the backcountry. He blogs about his experience as an Iraq veteran at warriorswithwesthusing.org.