Avid bowhunter Duane Davis said he loves the thrill of the hunt, finding fresh tracks, stalking an animal, and perhaps even getting into a “screaming” match with a big bull elk.
But the Sweet Home resident added that the hard work begins when he lets go of the bowstring.
“Then you have to track the animal, find the animal and process the animal,” Davis said.
And hauling the kill out of the forest can be a laborious process that involves miles of rugged terrain and hundreds of pounds of meat.
Davis, 59, said he’s harvested 14 elk while bowhunting in the High Cascades over the years, and this month, he’s working on bagging his 15th.
Putting food on the table is the point of hunting — and fishing — for Davis, who does all his own butchering.
“I’m not out there for the trophy. You can’t eat the antlers,” he said.
Years ago, hunting deer and elk and fishing were critical ways to make his family’s budget stretch. One full-grown elk could provide all the steak, hamburger, jerky and other meat for his family for a year.
“I have three children, and they all grew up with elk on their taste buds,” Davis said.
He added that deer and elk hunting provided better meat than anything in the supermarket.
“There’s absolutely no comparison with a fresh harvest. You don’t have all the nonorganic stuff they put into the meat to preserve it,” he said. “Your wild animals, they’re healthier,” he added.
The early bow seasons are Davis’ favorite time to hunt, because animals have been grazing on fresh, green vegetation and berries. “That always changes the flavor of the meat. … It all tastes good, but the summer meat is just a little bit sweeter,” he said.
Davis grew up mostly in the Sweet Home area with hunting and fishing in his blood. “It’s something that has been passed down to me through the generations,” Davis said.
His uncles took him bowhunting for the first time in the Sisters area when he was 13, and he had an antique longbow as tall as he was.
Davis added that he got lost chasing after a deer and spent the night alone in the woods. “It wasn’t a failure. It was a lesson in life,” he said.
His family moved to Astoria when Davis was in high school. He dropped out to work as a commercial fisherman at age 16, then joined the U.S. Army at 19.
“It was probably the best thing in my life,” Davis said. “It gave me respect. It gave me morals. It gave me guidance. It gave me discipline.”
The military, he said, essentially helped him out of a dead end and taught him how to raise his family. He also learned navigation skills that he continues to use while hunting.
Davis spent three years on active duty, and another 11 years of “pretty active” service with the National Guard.
He returned home to Sweet Home in 1993, and he now works as the head custodian for Entek in Lebanon.
During his time with the military, Davis earned his GED. But in 2012, he received his high school degree through a special program for veterans, and he made the same walk during Sweet Home’s graduation as his children had before him. “All three of my kids were there for it,” Davis said.
Davis isn’t a big fan of hunting with rifles, as there’s less art to the hunt. “That’s cheating,” he said. “I see an animal out there at 100 yards, that’s out of my range. I have to get that animal within 50 yards or closer.”
Elk season in particular has too many hunters with rifles going after too many animals, he said.
“As long as I can pull my bow, I will be shooting my bow,” Davis said.
For now — and likely for many seasons to come — he remains a deadeye thanks to plenty of practice.
“Less than 40 yards, I can pretty much dot an ‘i,’” Davis said.