- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

As I knelt on the rocky ledge, wrapping my shaking hands around the huge full curl of horns of a Makenzie Mountain wild ram, I cried uncontrollably as the snow and rain pelted my shivering body.

It had taken almost two hours to reach this Dall sheep from where I had made the shot at 300 yards, much higher up the mountain. The sheer drop-offs and narrow ledges of this jagged mountain made it very difficult and dangerous to traverse and reach my prize. Seven days of a 10-day extreme backpack hunt in the Northwest Territories of Canada had passed, and emotions were running wild as the success of this moment washed over me.

As my guide Kevin and good friend Don knelt beside me, I offered up a prayer, as I always do after taking a game animal. This was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the good fortune of being alive, having just fought off hypothermia two hours earlier, for guiding my footsteps safely through these deadly boulder-strewn peaks, for the ram and for so much more. I knew that this prayer would be one of not only thanks, but also of a request — a request for his continued safe guidance since it would take three more days through rugged terrain and swift waters, carrying heavy packs, to reach a gravel bar along the Arctic Red River. It was here that a single-engine Super Cub could land and then take us back to base camp.

The measure of success of this hunt was far more than taking a very mature 41-inch ram. It was more than high-protein red meat to share or a spectacular mount for America’s Wildlife Museum and Aquarium, which I chair. It was mind over matter, conquering rugged, dangerous, bolder-strewn peaks with heavy packs that I’d trained for months in advance. It was an adventure that most retirement-age folks would never even consider. It was a place where God’s hand made this all possible.

It was here that one rides an emotional roller-coaster challenged by the physical and emotional stress of the hunt. Here one feels the anxiety of a storm front approaching, the concern that the elusive game could disappear suddenly or the sheer terror of crossing a major rock slide, not knowing if the next rock will give way to tragedy.

As a hunter, it is in these times that I cling to God, feeling him closer than ever. I am touched by the spiritual movement of the mountains, the sunrise and sunset, the northern lights, the wind and, maybe most of all, the silence of this extremely remote place on earth.

The great outdoors is a place where we can restore our lives, where we can grow and enjoy even more fully our relationship with him. God reveals himself here in numerous ways, whether in tragedy or triumph.

It is here in the outdoors that I feel an even greater sense of commitment to partner and follow God’s word as a responsible steward of his creation. In Genesis 1:28 God admonishes us to “have dominion or rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on earth.” As a hunter-conservationist I am following his command, which is fulfilling to me.

Hunting so often simplifies life. It allows me to see more clearly the things that count most in my life and leads me into another dimension of my relationship with our creator.

I see it mirrored in the mountains and the desert. I see it shine and glow in the stars, the moon and the changing of seasons. I feel the Lord’s hand as I wade an Arctic river, as I endure blowing snow or as I face the scorching wind of the Sonoran Desert.

I hear it in the gobble of the wild turkey, the bugle of an elk or the eight notes of a barred owl. I smell it in the freshly fallen leaves in the October hardwoods or in the sweetly fragranced April honeysuckle. I see God in all this and more, and he speaks to me in the wilderness, the outdoors.

Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

In that verse God had an incredible plan in store for his chosen people, one including a magnificent outcome. Yet God first wanted to make sure they were up for the task and worthy of the reward. Spending 40 years in the wilderness can build a lot of character. Similarly, spending 10 days on an extreme backpack hunt in the Mackenzie Mountains builds a lot of character as well.

The benefits of going to remote places is nothing short of amazing. Being able to get away to a spot surrounded by God’s handiwork, free from distraction, puts us in a place where one can truly focus on God and hear what he is saying.

Senses become more fully alive and focused, and suddenly it makes sense. You are never closer to God himself than when you are in the very midst of that which his very hand created. Those remote places are truly remarkable, and for me, it’s there that I have the greatest ability to tune in to what God is saying.

God never promised us that our journey would be easy, only that with him, it would be worth it in the end.

Rob Keck has been a driving force in conservation for more than three decades. He is the director of conservation for Bass Pro Shops and serves as chairman of the board for America’s Wildlife and Museum and Aquarium. He served 27 years as the CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Petersen’s Hunting magazine named him one of hunting’s 25 most influential personalities of the 20th century.

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