The Importance of Place
by Chad de Alva
Trying to explain to someone what hunting means to you is a hard thing to do.
Hunting is many different things to folks with all sorts of backgrounds and goals. Yet, I feel like in this world of limitless marketing and insta-sharing-everything that we tend to see only the sex appeal of the latest camo pattern or the biggest bull that someone dropped more money on than I make in a year. In other words, we’re not taking the time to appreciate and share the stories of the friends and family, the country we are in, or the adventure that we had while out hunting. Look on any social media platform and I think you’ll see what I mean: The big bucks and bulls get all the attention. However, hunting is so much more than tagging out on the trophy of a lifetime.
Recently, on my Javelina hunt in Eastern Arizona, I was reminded of just how much more there is to hunting. Before sunrise on opening morning, Andy, who had literally driven into camp two hours earlier, summoned me from my sleeping bag. Andy was so excited to get out and start walking through the country we were in that he couldn’t wait for the rest of us to wake up by our alarms like normal people. Packs were hurriedly packed, and with a bagel in one hand and our rifles in the other, we set off to get to a glassing hill. Upon reaching the top of the glassing hill, Stephen and I started to setup our tripods so we could start glassing. Andy wasn’t into sitting around and glassing, so he sized up the biggest hill he could find, and with a wave, and an “I’ll catch you guys back in camp!” he was off to climb the hill. I know that Andy wanted to fill his tag just like we all did, but at that moment, during a beautiful Arizona sunrise, Andy wanted to see what was at the top of that hill. Hunters should feel fortunate that they get to be outside during the best parts of the day. Sunrise and Sunset are the times when the world looks its best, and a sunrise from the top of the highest point around is something that never gets old.
Evenings spent hunting are no less enjoyable, and on the evening of opening morning, I was with Eli on a large hill in some new country. From our glassing hill, we had a commanding view of the world around us, and more country to glass over than we could cover in an evening. We had just setup our tripods and settled into the glass when we both started to hear this strange sound. Being new to pig hunting I asked Eli “what is that?” only to discover the answer a split-second later, when a piglet ran through the brush in front of us. Not wanting to tag-out on a basketball with hooves, we let the piglet go and resumed glassing. An hour later, we were in the process of setting up shop in a new spot when several mature pigs burst out of the granite boulders below us. Twice in one evening we had walked right on top of pigs and literally busted them beneath our feet. Eli and I didn’t see any more pigs that evening, but we sure had a great evening hunting. I don’t think I can say it any better than Eli, who said, “I can never get enough of being out here and doing this–it just doesn’t get any better.”
I have yet to go on a hunt that hasn’t satisfied my thirst for adventure, and this Javelina hunt was no different. On the evening of day two, Eli, Jacob, and I found a herd of pigs that we were able to make a stalk [read: hurried shouldering through hundreds of yards of Russian olive, and other non-sharp bushes] on and get within rifle range. Jacob kicked off the circus by making a perfect shot on a boar inside 100 yards, and that’s when pigs started running everywhere. One pig decided to charge us before darting off into the bushes at the last second, which drew my attention as Eli and Jacob went to go check on Jacob’s pig. After losing the trail of the pig that charged us, I happened to look up to where Eli and Jacob were, just in time to watch Eli raise his rifle and connect with a pig across a shallow drainage to our East. Thinking by now that all the pigs had to be long gone, I started to walk to where Jacob’s pig was, when by sheer luck, I spotted another pig standing next to a cactus just down the ridge from where Eli’s pig was when Eli shot it. I shouldered my rifle and connected a single shot of my own. In the span of three minutes, we had harvested three pigs from the same herd. Yet, the excitement of our three downed pigs was overshadowed by the fact that Jacob had just accomplished something that he’d been waiting 20 years to do. The last time he was pig hunting in Arizona was when he was 12, and he’d been waiting 20 years to come back and harvest a Javelina.
When I look at the photos I have from this hunt, I don’t just see the country we were in or the hills we climbed to glass from–the images kick off a slideshow in my mind’s eye and I’m taken back to the experience of the hunt. I see a group of friends, who haven’t gotten to spend time together in a long while. I see fathers with sons, out doing things together. Sure, I’ve got a shot of Eli, Jacob, and I with our pigs, but the photos that strike a chord in my mind and soul are the shots of the country that we enjoyed during the hunt. Those are the photos that make we want to go back out there. I can tell you exactly what those two boulder outcroppings were like that Eli and I had pigs bust out of, but I couldn’t tell you what exactly the spot looked like where I harvested my pig. So, on your next hunt, take the time to soak it all in. Don’t dwell on the harvest an animal; enjoy the fellowship of friends. If you do, I’ll bet you’ll capture and remember the adventure and the importance of place.
Chad grew up in Telluride, CO and was learning to ski the day after he started walking. As he grew up, he spent his time exploring the San Juan Mountains on his mountain bike in the summer and on his skis in the winter. He picked up a camera in high school after breaking his collar bone twice–if he could not participate in his favorite sports, he was going to take photos of his friends riding and skiing. He then interned under the photo editor of the local paper to improve his craft and spent more and more of time behind the lens capturing images to tell the stories of his favorite sports and adventures. As digital cameras started to capture video, he was quick to adapt and started shooting video along with still images.
GoPro cameras had not been invented yet, but inspired by ski and mountain bike movies of the day, Chad started jerry-rigging cameras to his helmets to so that he could attempt to replicate some of the shots found in his favorite ski and bike movies. Thankfully, SLR bodies are now environmentally sealed, and GoPro cameras can take a beating so he is not actively destroying cameras–as fast.
Chad was officially introduced to hunting in the fall of 2012 when he went on an Arizona unit 9 archery elk hunt. Under a moonless sky in an endless Ponderosa forest, Chad struggled to find sleep while listening to bulls screaming at each other. The hunt was a mind blowing experience for Chad and set the hook on this sport called hunting. Less than a month later, Chad found himself on an all-night sheep recovery in Arizona’s unit 10. The adventure of 30 miles of hiking in a 24-hour period and watching a good friend tag out on a once in a lifetime hunt made Chad a hunter for life.
In early 2013, Chad started flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to add a new dimension to his work. Today, Chad shoots photos and videos to tell stories and inspire people.