By: Cody VanOrden
What does hunting mean to you? I ask myself this question each season. Lately, I think it’s been muddied by what social media wants it to be for many of us. In recent years, I’ve caught myself getting overly excited by top-of-the-line gear, exclusive locations, prized bulls, and comparing myself to the “professionals,” and it has overshadowed what hunting actually is.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I still geek out on my fancy gear I’ve collected over the years and some nice bulls under my belt, but that’s not how it all started, and it’s not what it means to me.
I was born in Bozeman, Montana. I grew up on a small ranch that my family leased just outside of town. When I was about 6 years old, my dad introduced me to hunting. He would let me tag along with him in the Bridgers (back then, elk were actually there) until I was old enough to go through Hunter’s Safety. I continued to hunt with my dad for a few unsuccessful seasons after that, but soon his desire faded, and mine increased. I leaped headfirst into teaching myself everything I could. Eventually, it became what I lived for.
My first successful elk season wasn’t until I was 18. I harvested a nice 6-point bull wearing a pair of Carhartt work boots and a black Belgrade Panthers hoodie under my hunter’s orange. It was quite possibly one of the best days of my life. Everything I had worked for and taught myself finally paid off.
This past season, I had the opportunity to start hunting with horses – something I haven’t done since I was a kid. It was a hunt where I found myself stepping into a beginner’s role. This turned out to be one of the most challenging and rewarding seasons I’ve ever had.
I had a hunting camp for all of the archery season several miles into the backcountry. The horses always did their job in getting us to where I needed to be, but it was up to me to finish. I had a couple of close calls on some decent-sized bulls and ultimately came out unsuccessful. It wasn’t until I had put on almost 200 miles with the horses that I finally connected with a bull – the right place at the right time, making it the perfect moment.
This type of hunting is a lot of work. Add in a couple 1,500-pound animals, and you’ve got yourself a whole other ballgame. Feeding and watering them, making sure they don’t get eaten by a Grizzly bear, packing your gear (and theirs) correctly are all part of the process. Horses have a mind of their own, and yet you have to be the one they depend on. Once you figure out how to work as a team, you start to trust each other — and you finally begin to relax.
Even though they are a lot of work, life got simple as soon as I was saddled up. I forgot about work, I forgot about chores and was just happy to be hunting. Horses can teach you a lot about yourself and give you an entirely new perspective on what hunting is.
I look back on those early years and my last hunting season with gratitude, especially as I watch hunting evolve and become more popular on social media.
Hunting was different before social media. It was an excuse to get outdoors, to harvest meat for the year to feed your family, a way to appreciate nature, and lessons learned from my dad.
Nowadays, it feels like to get into hunting you have to be a professional hunter with top-notch gear. As an avid outdoorsman, this mindset has become aggravating.
I remind myself hunting isn’t a popularity contest – it’s about taking a break from the 8 to 5 grind, getting into the mountains, and having time to yourself. It’s about proving to yourself that you can do it. As we prepare for the new season, remember don’t get caught up in the hype. Hunt for yourself – whether that’s filling the freezer or getting lost in the mountains. It’s about getting back to our roots and making life simple again.