The author drew a coveted elk hunt on Etolin Island a few years ago. In five days, he and his two buddies saw zero elk, but it still ranks as one of his favorite all-time hunts. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

I Went to the Woods: My ticket to paradise

Sheep. Goat. Caribou. Bison. Not necessarily in that order.

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

Sheep. Goat. Caribou. Bison.

Not necessarily in that order. In fact, I really don’t know what I would choose if I drew hunting permits for them all, but I’m not going to draw any of them, so I won’t have to worry.

As a side note, hunters get trapped into thinking they have to justify what they do. We shouldn’t. Vegans, vegetarians and non-hunters shouldn’t have to either. Do what you do, be happy and allow others to do the same. Why go out of your way to confront others, especially when they are acting within the confines of the law and liberty? Two of the things we should have learned from 2020 is that anger is unhealthy and though it does draw attention to causes, it alone doesn’t bring about the desired change. In fact, irrational anger does more harm than good. Unless the point is to be angry and feel justified in being mean, which for some, appears to be the real motivation. “They started it” is as in for adults now, as it was in Kindergarten.

Anyway, if I had a time machine one of the places I would go would be to the Great Plains to see what 40 million bison looked like. I can’t imagine it. It just doesn’t compute and nothing I will experience as a human will exist on that scale. I’ve seen a lot of ants on a hill, but not that many, and bison aren’t ants. The old, “walk across the river on the backs of salmon” thing to express a river loaded with humpies articulates the sight well, but it still wouldn’t compare to seeing such massive creatures on a massive expanse of land that is now cut into neat barbed-wire squares.

[Is ‘my way’ overrated?]

As far as Alaska goes, I can’t think of a more iconic moment than glassing out onto the tundra and watching a herd of caribou amble by, following the ancient GPS that tells them this is the path. I don’t know what a good caribou is as far as trophies go, and I’m glad. Getting too caught up with points and inches and shovels is a trap.

While caribou and bison make me think of unimaginable expanses of untouched space, goats and sheep make me think of severe nature that humans are ill-equipped to pave, fence, plow or populate. The best we can do is visit. To say the habitat for those two is “rugged” is a copout, but maybe because a fair description necessitates numerous modifiers, images and probably expletives, “rugged” becomes woefully unjust, but enough.

From the day I started reading magazine articles and books about fly fishing and hunting, I knew I would forever be chasing experiences. There is a satisfaction in knowing that. When I don’t draw any of those tags I am sure I will feel at least some level of disappointment, but the reality is, harvest ticket opportunities for residents provide more than a lifetime’s worth of “hunt of a lifetime” experiences.

I used to golf with some buddies in the English department almost every Wednesday at a cheap, dog track of a course when I lived in California. Around we went for nine holes, the excitement limited to who was playing so poorly, they might put one on the freeway. I like golf, and parks and have felt the energy of a city. But those feel like distractions. Alone in nature feels like reality. The vibe of a city has nothing on the pulse of the earth and sometimes tags are the ticket there.

• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.

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