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Answering the ‘Call of the Mild’
A Central Oregon transplant learns to hunt for her own dinner
January 14, 2013
It’s every hunter’s dream – to get their elk on opening morning.
Lily Raff McCaulou hunted the same area for deer a few weeks earlier and never saw a buck so her hopes of bagging a bull weren’t exactly soaring.
Lily is an amazing example of the evolution of a hunter. Just four years prior to this hunt, she never held a rifle in her hands, or even knew the difference between a rifle and a shotgun (She jokes that the Dick Cheney shooting incident finally brought that difference to light and taught her what not to do).
She grew up in the Washington D.C. area deathly afraid of guns. Now, here she sat in a patch of southern Oregon forest, gripping her rifle tightly as a 4-point bull elk approached.
Before moving to Bend in 2004, Lily worked for the film industry in New York City. Eventually, she grew disenchanted with that job and decided she wanted a career in journalism. Since the job market there was so competitive, she looked to the Northwest, having traveled there once and liking the area.
“It was absolutely luck that brought me to Bend,” says Lily. “I applied to every open journalism job in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.”
She figured she would live a few years in the Wild West, get some experience then move back east. That was nine years ago. Now she’s married and has a one-year old son and doesn’t plan on moving anywhere soon.
Her job as a reporter for The Bulletin, and as a resident of Bend, introduced her to many hunters. She was raised as an animal lover and gun-fearing environmentalist, but she started to see that many of these hunters had respect for, and a close connection to, the land and its wildlife.
So she jumped head-first, and perhaps even blindly, into the world of hunting. It started with a hunter safety class in 2006. The adult classes had just ended and the only other class available was a course in Culver that had 11 and 12-year-old kids. She was 26.
“One of my big fears of guns that was drummed into me growing up was what a bad combination that kids and guns were,” Lily explains.
However, this class helped adjust her mindset and she had to rethink all of her assumptions about guns by being in this class with kids and guns.
“These kids were great and handled the guns responsibly. They were funny, fun and took the class very seriously, which I’m sure is the norm in hunter safely classes,” she says.
When she took the class she was terrified of guns and uncomfortable around them. After this class she was beginning to feel a little more comfortable handling them. The students shot .22 rifles at the indoor range in Madras.
The next step, and a huge step for Lily, was to buy a gun. “I decided to start off hunting birds,” she says. “It seemed less terrifying to me than big game.”
She bought a Benelli 20-gauge shotgun and started shooting trap at the Redmond Rod and Gun Club until she felt comfortable with it.
Then she signed up for a pheasant hunting workshop in 2007. The “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman” program is a series of outdoor skills workshops provided through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Lily killed her first pheasant on that hunt, she thinks. She and the woman next to her shot the same time and the bird fell. She was awarded the bird and got to take it home for the feast.
“I never saw a pheasant that close before,” Lily recalls. “They have so many colorful feathers.” She kept them all to be later used in her fly tying and jewelry making.
Since that hunt she’s killed other game birds and a few rabbits but has been skunked in several seasons of deer hunting. Then came the elk hunt.
As the bull approaches, she thinks, “Is this a dream? Am I seeing things?” The morning of her first elk hunt and she is about to have an opportunity that few hunters get to experience. 75 yards, 50 yards, he’s still coming right for Lily. The only heart shot she knows about is a broadside shot but he’s facing her head-on. At 25 or 30 yards the bull suddenly stops and turns. She pulls the trigger. The bullet explodes from her 7mm-08 Weatherby and the bull explodes from its tracks. It ran only about a dozen yards then dropped.
“I was really disappointed in myself that I hadn’t taken the time to research and memorize something to say over the elk after I killed it, some kind of hunting prayer,” she recalls. “I ended up simply saying, ‘Thank you. I’m sorry.’”
In Lily’s new book CALL OF THE MILD, she devotes a chapter to this elk hunt. She recalls walking up to this elk and thinking that it looked more horse than deer.
“A lot of hunters had warned me about how hard it was to get a bull out of the woods,” she says. “Until I actually did it, I really had no idea. Elk hunting is an extreme sport if there ever was one.”
It took her and her husband Scott three trips and 11 hours to get the elk back to their rig, almost two miles distant. They spent the next day butchering with the help of some friends. The third day was spent making sausage and grinding everything that hadn’t been packaged.
“Those three days, 16-hour days, were some of the longest of my life,” Lily recounts. “But it was so satisfying. I think it would have been such a shame to take the elk to the butcher.”
She was a little worried about eating that first steak since she was still a bit grossed out from the field dressing. However, she said that first backstrap was absolutely delicious. Then it occurred to her – they have so much meat and it’s so good. She even saved some packages of meat so her son could try some and he loved it.
“I would never say that everybody needs to hunt if you want to eat meat but I do think that for me personally it feels appropriate to go and do it myself,” says Lily. “It has that direct connection — I pull the trigger and that animal ends up on my plate.”
Her hunting experience has made her realize that there’s more of a culture of respect and thanks among hunters than she had given them credit for earlier. However, not everyone in the hunting (and shooting) community agree with all of her beliefs. Enter an op-ed she wrote last April for the New York Times around the same time the National Rifle Association (NRA) was having its convention.
She wrote it in one night and thought it would be good publicity for her new book. Here’s how she sums it up:
“It was pretty simple and mild I thought. Mitt Romney was the keynote speaker and you kept hearing about how he talked with members who were hunters. People use those two terms interchangeably — NRA members and hunters. I was just pointing out that they were not the same thing. I am a hunter but I’m not an NRA member and I don’t think that the NRA represents me as a hunter. As hunters we are a diverse group; we’re hard to pin down and we’re hard to represent. I think the NRA has become a pretty extreme organization that’s focused on something that’s pretty different from what most hunters are. They have a lot more to do with selling guns and ammunition than protecting our rights. There’s a lot of fear mongering.”
But she said that she didn’t really get into any of that.
“All I said was — here’s why I hunt. It doesn’t have to do with the gun; it has to do with the wildlife, the land and the experience.”
She received about 700 emails that were really mixed. About half agreed with her. Then there were those who said “How dare you kill animals.” A lot more common were those from angry NRA members who said “How dare you not support the NRA.”
So why do we hunt? This is a question that many hunters and outdoor writers have been trying to answer for years. I think Lily sums it up pretty appropriately.
“When I go out and hunt I get this window into the natural world that I can’t really get any other way,” she explains. “That’s bigger than the meat I bring home on the days that I get lucky. It’s bigger than any one thrill or experience. It’s the whole approach. I feel like it’s given me this new way of looking at the land.”
Lily’s book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and several book stores in central Oregon including Paulina Springs Books and Between the Covers. You can also check out her website at www.lilyrm.com. Whether you’re a hunter or not, you’ll find that her book is an excellent read.