If you’re like me, nothing is quite as exciting as the weeks prior to opening day of hunting season. It doesn’t matter our preferred style of weapon, what animal we’re after, or any other trivial elements. It’s the hunt that calls us, pure and simple.

And many of us recognize the ancient need to nurture that hunter/gatherer part of ourselves that has been imprinted in our DNA. Sadly, some of us forget that this desire comes with a hearty responsibility, one that can continue to be fulfilled if we all do our part to be good stewards of the earth. Our ability to use natural places is a privilege that some hunters take for granted. Unfortunately, it affects us all.

My hunting partner and I were more than ready, more than excited and more than grateful to be, once again, sitting by the fire, awaiting opening morning. I love archery season because it seems that bow hunters are just a bit more aware, a bit more quiet and contemplative. It’s my prejudice I guess, but if there were any other hunters in the area during that trip, we sure didn’t know it.

At 4 am we are slowly moving towards our secret spot. Not slowly enough apparently, as we hear the stomp of big hooves. Hyper-awareness mystically kicks in. We are transported instantly into the “zone” that truly aware hunters experience. We slow to a crawl, hearing nothing but our own hearts beating. The woods seem as pristine as they were a hundred years ago. Nothing tells us anyone has ever passed this way. Good stewardship indeed because we get to enjoy it every year. I am grateful that other folks have treated our spot with as much respect as us.

Fast forward . . . it’s opening day of rifle season. We’re in the same spot, walking the same path, noticing the same wild, untouched beauty of the woods until we come to a fork in the narrow trail where we continue uphill on a very thin, hardly noticeable trail that we take to our secret spot. What I saw next broke my heart. I didn’t know whether to curse or cry.

We saw two distinct ATV tracks cutting through the thick forest to the right and continuing up the faint trail we had been using for years. The impact that these two hunters left on the environment is still evident two years later. There are deep ruts, broken small trees and bushes that can still be seen. And other off-road vehicles including motorcycles began following the trail that was made, making it worse and restoration impossible.

It is a reoccurring theme that goes on ad infinitum because of the mindlessness of two hunters who didn’t have enough respect to stay on designated trails. The day we discovered the destruction, we found the camp and the hunters who did this. Over the next couple of days, we saw even more evidence of their foolishness. There’s a reason that there are designated trails and this is a good example of what happens when people go wherever they want. And, it’s become all too common.

Instead of retaliation, which never serves anyone, we notified the USFS ranger and the local game warden. My partner snapped a shot of these guys riding without helmets, holding beers, with rifles on the handlebars, in an area where they weren’t allowed. Plenty of evidence.

Needless to say, these fellows haven’t been back since.

My grandfather always said that there were two types of hunters. The ones who came to honor the hunt and enjoy the wild, and the ones who came to get away from somebody or something. He also taught me the golden rule of the woods which has always been, “leave no trace.” If we all honored that simple idea, think of what that would yield in return. Not only more beauty, but probably more game too. Think about it . . . it’s up to us!