Our front porch is a popular place for our neighbors around the holidays. They visit it when we’re not home, so there’s always a surprise waiting when we return. We’re diligent about checking the porch because anything left out overnight will freeze and ruin.

Anything other than elk meat, that is. It’s cold enough this winter to store meat on the front porch. We don’t, but we could.

And it looked like we would be one night. There was a large, blue reusable shopping bag on the top step. It bulged with taped blocks of white butcher paper. Each block was labeled “Elk 2016” in black marker.

Meat on our stoop. That was a first.

Family friend and successful hunter Travis Zmak took pity on our empty-freezer status and shared his harvest with us. A year ago I never thought wild game would be the best holiday present ever left on our porch. But it is.

We brought the meat in, loaded the frozen chest in the basement, then headed upstairs for a family movie before bed. My husband chose a holiday classic none of us had seen: White Christmas from 1954. The opening scene is a World War II battle zone on Christmas Eve. Bing Crosby, uniformed as an Army captain, sings “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” while cutaways of the crowd show other soldiers lamenting. One somberly rests his chin on the business end of his gun.

“He’s not supposed to do that,” my older son says.

Before I can explain the archaic actions of the ’50s, my younger son adds, “He wouldn’t pass hunter ed.”

I never thought an old flick would inspire such talk. But it does.

Both of my boys passed hunter education in January 2016. Me, too; I’m the proud mama who aced the test in a room full of 10-year-old boys also taking the test. We earned orange beanies and the right to competently bear arms and buy hunting licenses.

My youngest shot his first rabbit two weeks later; “bow and arrow” was on his Christmas list. My oldest is interested in bagging birds; “BB gun” was on his list.

My husband received his Christmas present early—a muzzleloader. He’s our household’s new mountain man. He drew one of Idaho’s coveted elk hunts, but that’s where his beginner’s luck ran out. Wildlife outsmarted him and his new gun. That’s why our freezer is full of gifted elk instead of our own.

“I’m going to need another gun,” he said at the end of his 30-day draw of empty-handed hunting. “Muzzleloader is not the way to go if I’m going to provide for this family.”

As for me, here’s what I know of my fishing family’s first year of hunting:

I love the pursuit and what it requires physically and mentally. I love bushwhacking, scouting, and glassing. I’m patient when I have to be and quiet as needed. I’m all in for those elements, but when it comes time to shoot, I still prefer to shoot with a camera.

As an outdoor journalist, I’ve been on plenty of hunts and covered plenty of hunting stories. I understand the value of hunting and the reason for it, but I’m always the one shooting with a camera, so I’m not sure I should be the one to pull the trigger. Especially when it comes to big game.

I have yet to figure out why I’m shying away from fur when chasing feathers and fins brings me such delight. Particularly fins. Fish are my thing. Putting flies in their mouth is even more of my thing. I’ve bought a fishing license every year since I first picked up a rod two decades ago. I never thought I’d carry a fish-hunt combo license. But now I do.


Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See more of her work at tightlinemedia.com.