There is a beast out there, and we are trying to kill it.
We stand in silence, listening for a single sound that may give us the advantage. Alex is completely immersed, giving me hand signals and mouthing words.
And I am doing everything in my power not to laugh.
Until now, I hadn't considered the possibility that being on mushrooms, even what Alex called "a microdose," might not be the best mental condition for my first time hunting elk. I didn't think we would actually get on the trail of an animal as soon as I started peaking, and silently laughing at tree bark when those rustling branches could be a bear is not what anyone would call "best practices."
Yet here I am—a vegetarian newbie hunter with no weapon, biting his lip so as not to scare away what could be a year's worth of meat for my friend.
I've been friends with Alex for over a decade. For him to take up bowhunting was much more than a slight surprise. This is a man so proud of his veganism that once, during our time as roommates, he called the entire house into the bathroom after he'd taken a shit to demand that we sniff the air, noting the complete lack of stench.
"That's the vegan diet, man," he smirked as we awkwardly shuffled out.
Alex's transition from preachy shitter to camo-wearing elk hunter had taken place over the past few years. He'd begun thinking about eating meat again in early 2019, after almost a decade as a vegetarian and three years as a vegan. After consulting with his doctor, he dove back in, devouring an entire rotisserie chicken his first meal back and calling it "one of the best meals of my life."
Alex has made his living as an independent artist for the past few years, and this new layer fit naturally into his DIY lifestyle. Just as he had worked to avoid having to punch the clock for someone else, the goal of being able to at least partially provide his own food was also part of that ethic. Most meat eaters never have to face the cold reality of how the steak gets on their plate, but it was important to Alex that he was viscerally aware of the process.
With no experience, but an interest in doing some hunting of his own, he bought a bow after a friend did in hopes of being able to learn alongside someone. Since MasterClass doesn't seem to cater to the bookish hunter, he took an online course called the "University of Elk Hunting" and went out on a few scouting missions. Because he didn't want to be in the woods alone, he asked me to join the adventure.
As an 11-year vegetarian myself—God, that sounds smug—I've never been hunting, nor given it much thought. It's not exactly a generational tradition that's handed down from one big-city Jew to the next. The image of hunters in my head was of a guy with a couple of buddies getting drunk in a tree stand, or maybe Dick Cheney blowing away his friend's face that one time.
Besides, the only hunting tips I'd heard sounded like boyhood sex advice. I had this idea that deer were attracted to pee, and kept imagining a horned-up deer orgasmically lapping up forest-floor piss. The only image I had of an elk was from the statue downtown, which isn't even there anymore.
Despite my clear lack of interest in or knowledge of hunting, I was actually pretty excited when Alex invited me to tag along. The world is becoming a darker place—I'm not saving up for my very own bunker or anything, but I have been bingeing Survivorman during quarantine and thinking about my own ability to live off the land.
With a perma-virus that has now reached the Oval Office, daily civil unrest, and my dream of being a professional standup comedian growing dimmer by the day, learning to hunt and kill an animal might be something I'll need to do in the future. It probably also helped that I wouldn't have to shoot anything and I strongly doubted our chances of getting a kill.
This also might be the only hunting trip I ever take, so I decided not to drop big bucks on gear. For under $25, I was able to nab two pieces of usable camo: a long-sleeve shirt and a Goodwill rain jacket. Alex, on the other hand, seemed to have the Tesla of camo gear, complete with a matching backpack and gun holster.
Our expedition was to take place near Florence in what the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife calls Alsea Unit 18. A day and a half in and we hadn't offcially hunted yet. Our journey started with a small canoe trip, complete with selfies and "fuck yeahs" galore. It quickly turned into "a learning experience" that ended with Alex falling waist deep into marsh water and toasting his phone. After finally making it to the campsite, we realized Alex's bow had been damaged in the process, meaning we'd have to drive to Eugene the next day to get it fixed. The next morning we made the hike out and arrived at BowTech, the favorite archery shop of frequent Joe Rogan guest Cameron Hanes, for the repair. I took a picture of a T-shirt for sale that read "0% Vegetarian."
Once you're actually in the woods and on the hunt, it's an immersive experience. The possibility of seeing an animal keeps you involved throughout. Plus, you've got to be quiet, which provided a great cover for my sweeping bouts of anxiety. You have a lot of time to sit alone with your thoughts but get to break it up periodically with popular hunting phrases like, "Did you hear that?" and "What kind of shit is that?"
After a long day spent combing overgrown forest roads, we headed to Heceta Head Lighthouse to see the ocean. As the fog surrounded us and the lighthouse cast its beams into the void, we decided there couldn't be a better place to smoke a bit of DMT.
We parked Alex's truck in the lot and headed up the path. There were just two other vehicles near us, and they looked to be people waiting out the smoke near the beach for a few days. Soon, we're sitting under the lighthouse and I am much too high to function. It makes me feel bad, because Alex is much more spiritual than I am. So while he throws a mushroom capsule into the ocean as an offering, I kind of just meander off into the dark to pretend I'm getting in touch with God.
As we sit back together, Alex tells a story about a former elementary schoolteacher of his. I try to pay attention, but I'm distracted by a distant beeping.
"Is that your car alarm, dude?"
Alex perks up and listens.
"Shit. We gotta go!"
I'm way too high to be running through the darkness toward Alex's ringing truck alarm, terrified that some coastal wack job has nabbed all our stuff and possibly made off with the gun.
Rounding the corner, I dimly make out Alex's camoed silhouette by the red bike light he's palming, his boonie hat my only real guide. We reach the bottom of the path and are met with a very safe truck and the roar of the ocean. Breathing a sigh of relief, we bound off to the wave's edge and wipe away the remainder of our camo face paint. This is elk hunting, I guess.
We ended up not seeing a single big game animal on the trip since whatever was in those bushes could evade our detection. But apparently, the best part about hunting is that even if you're unsuccessful, you're still outside, the air is clean, and you're connected to nature, mushrooms or not.
And I have to admit, I don't look half-bad in camo.