Last month, high up in the Montana wilderness on a cool summer day, a Jewish kid (and terrible shot) from Ohio received a crash course on elk hunting. I was there to make a portrait for Field and Stream. The subject was Jack Schoonen: master elk hunter, fishing guide, and 8th grade science teacher from nearby Dillon, MT.
We conversed for hours throughout the shoot as I asked him about everything, from the minutiae of gear and technique to his expanding archive of big hits and near misses. I was so impressed with his minimalist approach, which favors the quiet of traditional wool clothing over the swishy noise of gore-tex, and intimate knowledge of the land acquired over 20 years of hunting the same spots instead of an expensive GPS mapping device. We photographed everything he takes hunting in the back of his truck, all of which fits either on his body or in a small waist pack:
With the open curiosity of a great teacher, he asked me about my work. I talked candidly about my own successes and failures, about my lifelong commitment to photography, and about the slow, steady process of continually evolving and improving. I gradually realized that we are both hunters that rely on an accumulation of experience, along with carefully chosen equipment that we know and trust in order to find something beautiful and elusive.
As photographers, we are fortunate to walk through different doors into otherwise inaccessible worlds. We step through and are hunters in those new worlds for a short time, learning as much as we can, using that knowledge to find the best images possible, returning to our studios to clean and deliver our trappings, then gearing up and heading out for the next expedition.
I always feel fortunate to spend time with an expert in any field, especially one that is as insightful, talented, and curious as Jack Schoonen. It's a trade I'll take any day, and one that perpetuates my lifelong love of hunting.