“WHAT DO THEY DO OUT THERE?” That’s what Erika Larsen used to wonder when she’d watch friends disappear into the woods on hunting trips. So a few years ago she tagged along and took some pictures of them skinning a doe. The photo graphs she developed were unlike anything she’d seen, and they sent her packing into the wilderness, cramming into blinds, doubling up on ATVs, and hanging out in cook tents looking for more. As the pictures from eight different hunts began filling her library, Larsen realized she wasn’t just satisfying a curiosity–she was telling the story of an American tradition. And from a lone cougar guide in the wilds of Alberta, to a family of rabbit chasers in North Carolina, all the hunters she encountered seemed to have their own way of keeping it alive. Over two years, Larsen amassed 2,200 photographs of hunters. Here’s her story of what we do out there.
“Everyone has their own mind, I guess, for deer hunting,” says Gerald Marcury (top right, with a deer he’d tracked for three days before tagging it). For him that means this cabin in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, which started as a bark structure in 1912, burned down, was twice rebuilt, and is now a kind of second home. “That’s the thing about hunting camp,” says Marcury, whose friend David Tart (top left) has been hunting out of some version of this place for 58 years. “You don’t talk to these guys on the phone, or see them on the street, but the minute you’re back, you’re just in camp and it’s like you never left.”
“I call that the Oh Boy Bridge, because that’s what I said the first time I saw it,” says Ed Gorch Sr. (driving the ATV), a retired carpenter from New York, whose annual bowhunts at this camp near Fort McMurray, Alberta, have become a quest for a blond bear, which he’s seen but never shot at. Two years ago, he started bringing his son, Ed (with him on the ATV and below). “When your son’s there, you’re not as concerned about you getting anything. Now I want him to get his blond bear.” Ed Gorch Jr. is a social worker and song-writer from Brooklyn–and he’s a lot like his dad. “I’d rather see him harvest something nice than myself.”
“At night, you hear how everybody did, and you get your belly full, and you get your drinks on,” says Ed Gorch Jr. (opposite page). One of his favorite parts of the hunt was hanging out in camp with guides like Cole Erasmus (center left), a Ute Indian who plays baseball in the off-season and refers to himself as “just another kid from the bush.” This was Gorch’s first bear hunt, and he wasn’t sure if he’d actually pull the bow back. But he took this boar just 10 minutes into the first day. “You have to have a reverence for what you’re hunting or you shouldn’t be hunting.”
THE LION HUNTER
“Every time I set the dogs loose, I say good-bye because they’re out there in the wild all by themselves–and I’m not doing them any favors, sending them after a 180-pound cat.” While crossing this frozen lake near Cadomin, Alberta, guide Byron Stewart and his hounds almost lost the track of a trophy male that was two days ahead of them. Beside him (second from right) was his lead dog, Ricki, who would be killed by wolves a month after this hunt. “These silly old smelly hounds–it’s always a relief to gather them up at the end of the day.”
“Every year I hunt this land, I tell people it might be the last time.” Travis Allen is an environmental scientist who’s been shooting geese on his grandfather’s Maryland farm since high school, but it will likely have to be sold in the near future. During this December hunt, he and three friends shot their limit. “Goose hunting can be a lot of work, and not always very much reward, so you’ve really got to love it.”
THE RABBIT RUNNERS
“One-third of the pleasure I get out of living now at 74 years old is hunting: First is God, next is family, next is hunting.” And for Edward Taylor (standing, far left), that means chasing rabbits on his 185-acre North Carolina farm with three younger generations of his family. Here, he’s with (from left) his grandson Reshad Williams, his son Kenneth, and his brother “Uncle Bill.” Edward’s son Dungee (below) says that he can’t imagine his family without hunting: “When you’re a kid and it’s Christmas Eve, and you just can’t wait for Santa Claus to come–it’s the same way with us before rabbit season.”
“We call them ‘calling mornings’–those frosty, early mornings when everything is still and the sound just carries.” Moose guide Gary Padlesky (below) says these are the times when his usual birch-bark calls aren’t even necessary. “Sometimes you’ll hear them call back from 2 or 3 miles away.” Padlesky took over an outfit near Keg River, Alberta, when the previous owner passed away. His hope for it involves one of his best guides, Leo Hurtubise (page 78): “I joke all the time that Leo is a young me. I’d love to see him take over my business some day.” Leo’s wife, Carmen (right), joins her husband for a week every season.