Apparently, if you really want to go hunting - none of that shooting from a blind, canned ranches where deer are lured by feeders - you've got to go elk stalking in the Rocky Mountains.
In Wyoming, I spent a week in an old-school hunting camp. This camp can only be reached with a six-hour horseback ride - no motorized equipment of any kind allowed. In this country, where grizzlies abound, we lived without electricity or running water, hunting elk from horseback.
Life here is completely dependent on animals: horses and mules provide transportation, and dogs guard for bears. It was a recreational hunt, where several hunters were guided by professional guides, who live in these mountains for the better part of the year. The camp was built in the 1940's, and almost all the technology that was used had never changed.
Elk, or wapiti, are one of the world's largest deer species. Their name can be confusing, as älg means moose in Swedish. They are hunted by stalking, which can be an arduous affair: hunters need to be in excellent physical shape to attempt it. As I prepared for this trip, I was quite terrified by accounts of hunters who train for elk stalking by running up and down stadium steps with 20-kg backpacks, and following rigorous gym programs. I halfway whipped myself into shape by joining a boxing class, and I managed to pretty much keep up and not embarrass myself.
Bears form a real threat in these mountains, and without dogs, they will browse around your camp. It was confusing to be around this one though: whenever she got in the way or tried to sniff at the meat, the hunters would holler a thundering "BELLA, GIT!", making me jump every time.
The elk that are caught are quartered, packed in cloth bags and hung from the meat pole so no bears can get to it. A quarter of an elk weighing about as much as a grown person, this is a two-man job. Needless to say, these hunting guides were in excellent shape.
No electricity or running water meant no showers for a week. Though I'm not averse to a little improvising, I was kind of worried about my hair getting greasy and looking disgusting.
To my surprise, there was something about the mountain air that kept it completely clean. Still, after a week of wearing hunting gear and napping in the dirt, I was in for the best shower of my life.
The first elk that is caught in the hunt, is celebrated by eating the heart. This heart was sliced into strips and sauteed in a cast-iron skillet. It was so large that it fed 8 grown men and 2 women.
Wild elk meat is incredibly tender and tastes fairly similar to beef, as elk feed on grasses too. The elk that is sold in restaurants however, isn't wild meat, but farmed, and the taste does not quite compare.