Yak Dung & Fire Water

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By Mark Hampton

Anti-hunters often believe we hunt just to kill. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Planning, anticipation and preparation play a big part. Someone said, “We don’t hunt to kill, but we kill to have hunted.” Some of my fondest memories of hunting originate from unique places, unique people — and unique cultures. I love hunting, but there’s a world of satisfaction in the side galleries.

I once hunted a remote part of inner China before the country closed its doors to hunting. After complex, lengthy travel logistics, three American hunters and I pulled in to a tented mountain camp looking for blue sheep and gazelle. There were 22 Chinese waiting for our arrival! We had a driver, interpreter, a guide and assistant guide — for each hunter — two water boys, three horse wranglers, three cooks, a girl to keep yak dung in our stove, plus others. We even had a doctor to check our blood pressure every morning. At 15,000-foot elevation, if our blood pressure was out of whack, no hunting.

The first morning I discovered we flatlanders don’t do well at 15,000 feet. While climbing a hill I had to catch my breath every few steps. Only I couldn’t catch my breath. My lungs were screaming for oxygen and simply put, there wasn’t any.

The first group of sheep we encountered contained several decent rams and I had already made my mind up — I was going to fill out as soon as possible so I could lay down! My custom XP-100 downed a nice ram and we were on our way back to camp before noon. Later in the evening I connected on a dandy gazelle, finishing my hunt on the first day. Thank goodness.

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Mystery milk …

Honored Guest

Early the next morning the other hunters departed for the day’s hunt. The girl who filled our stoves came over and motioned for me to follow her. Nobody else spoke a word of English except for the interpreter, and he was gone with the hunters. With a language barrier firmly in place, I followed the girl. Surely this was harmless, I thought, even though she was bigger and stronger than me.

We walked for a mile or so and came to an old wooden structure. It was home for a local yak herder and his family. When I walked in they were so happy to see me. They made me feel like royalty even though I didn’t understand a word. They poured me a bowl of some kind of milk and I’ll confess I wasn’t completely sure what was floating in the bowl. I took a couple of sips and it was basically undrinkable. Yikes, what to do — drink it down?

As soon as I would take a sip, they made sure to fill’r back to the rim. I didn’t want to offend and smiled with every gulp. Later they served yak meat. We all sat around smiling at each other. When the yak meat disappeared the elder placed chairs around a circle in the room. There were 12 of us sitting in chairs and I couldn’t help but wonder what was next.

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Mark only has this faded photo of his Chinese Blue Sheep from his
hunt, but a pocketful of good memories of his hosts.

Lifesaving Floor Crack

The elder gave everyone a glass. He proceeded to fill the glasses with jet fuel disguised as alcohol. He sat down and began singing as the rest of the group joined in. When finished, they all clapped and laughed robustly — then downed the jet fuel. My lips were on fire the moment that liquid touched my lips and I knew I was in way over my head. The elder went around the circle refilling all the glasses. When he took his seat, the next person in line started singing another song, with everyone joining in. At the end of the song, more laughter, more clapping, followed by downing the liquor. I knew I couldn’t take much of this.

I found a crack in the floor near my foot where I secretly poured the drink. On cue, the elder filled all the glasses again, the next person in line started singing as others chimed in. When the song ended, laughter erupted followed by a big round of applause. They chugged another glass. As each one took turns leading in song, the laughter became louder and the applause gained momentum — always followed by another shot. By the time this routine took full circle, everyone was hammered. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

This family welcomed a total stranger in their home. They couldn’t do enough for me. They were so kind and hospitable, I wish I could’ve spoken Chinese to express my appreciation and gratitude. The girl walked me back to camp and filled my stove with more yak dung. The successful hunters returned and we all departed to lower elevation where we could breathe again.

I may never hunt China again but the memories I have of the country, people, and culture will never be forgotten. The sheep and gazelle were important to me — but the great people I met, made the trip.

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