Because we work in the outdoor industry, many people think we get to spend a majority of our time in the field. While we would like those sentiments to actually be true, in all honesty we don’t get to spend nearly enough time adventuring as much as we’d like. And that’s why we have to live vicariously through Maven fans and friends.
Every now and then we meet a stand-out, an individual who excels beyond the ordinary dude in camo who eats, sleeps, breathes hunting, or the hardcore birder that spends their entire holiday birding. These stand-outs are mavens of the community and they are respected for their knowledge and passion for what drives them. They are motivated to be great, beyond only a simple, casual interest in life. They embody the essence of what it means to be a Maven. They are the core of The Maven Corps.
One of those individuals is BJ Tilden. Not only is he an impassioned hunter, he’s also an accomplished carpenter and a world class rock climber. He grew up in Cody, Wyoming and he’s managed to merge his love of climbing and hunting into a way of life. He currently lives right here in Lander, Wyoming, which means we get to hear about some of his hunting adventures. Here’s a first person narrative of BJ’s archery elk hunt this past season…
Archery Elk 2016
Packing in: It’s no small task. The day is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is an all-day mission, driven by the anticipation of the unknown. I’m not sure how many times my dad and I have gone through the process over the years. I’ve learned a lot about horse packing, but the lessons are never done. He still likes to tell me “boy, you might make a hand yet.” I’ve been hearing that for twenty years and it makes me smile every time.
The ride: The beauty of the valley is intense, rising from the river bottom straight up to the alpine. This is our fourth year in a row going back to this special place. The trail and the views have become familiar, but every trip is unique.
The reward: After so many close calls and near misses, you start to wonder if it will ever actually happen. So many things have to come together just right to get an arrow into a bull elk. You look at that big country and it feels almost impossible. When you finally find the right place at the right time, it’s magic! A moment that I won’t even try to describe – it can only be experienced.
Contemplating our next move: What you can’t quite make out in this photo is the huge black bear that has claimed my elk. Surprisingly not a grizz, but a big fella just the same. He had no interest in leaving his prize. We pushed to about 20 yards before he decided to leave, and he didn’t go far. As soon as we got pictures taken and started cutting, here comes Mr. Grizzly. The horses let us know he was there, already at 50 yards. He stood up and stared us down. Warning shots were just a waste of rounds. I gave him a long range taste of bear spray which had some effect, but didn’t exactly send him running. I took care of the elk while my dad stood guard with the shotgun. The bear was never more than a hundred yards away and he would try to come in every 20 minutes or so, getting bolder every time. We finally got the horses packed and made our exit with meat and horns on board. As we were leaving, both bears were converging in on the remains. We thought about easing back down there to watch the show, but decided we had better not push it.
Caching in: The black bear spent all his time moving a ton of dirt to bury my bull. He barely took a bite before we showed up, and I doubt he won out against the grizzly after we left. The black bear had the size advantage, but I would still have to bet on the grizz.
Back in camp: We were totally exhausted and completely content after the recovery. I feel very fortunate to have spent this time with my dad, and to share such a powerful experience. His pure love of the pursuit is an inspiration. Maybe he will take first shot next year, but I doubt it.
Culmination: It always seems to snow on the day we have to leave. Packing up a wet camp in an early fall snow is pretty unpleasant. However, it seemed like a small price to pay with a great bull on the ground – I didn’t mind a bit.
Stay tuned to the Maven Journal for more in our Maven Corps series. We’ll highlight inspiring individuals just like BJ who give it their all, and then some.