Packing it Out.

Packing It Out: Loads, Life, and LoveClearcut

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” Gal 6:1-5 (NKJV)

The Alaskan native name for Admiralty Island is “Fortress of the Bears.” Besides a healthy brown bear population it also contains a large Sitka Blacktail deer herd. The northern end of Admiralty is a short boat ride from Juneau and a popular hunting area. In good weather we would run over by skiff for a day hunts. The area has tide ranges from minus four feet lows to over twenty-two feet highs. Frequently the blacktails will walk the exposed beaches and make it easy to pack out after a kill, but usually they like the ridges well off the beach. Hunting the old growth forest of Southeastern makes you feel like Daniel Boone. The understory is wide open except for occasional patches of blueberries or devil’s club. A six inch carpet of moss covers the ground making even the heavy footed hunter able to move like a ghost. The standard technique for blacktail is to follow game trails toward the ridge lines and hopefully make a shot. A good snow cover allows the hunter to find fresh sign and track the animal until close enough for a shot. Most shots are less than 100 yards unless you find the deer on the muskeg meadows common to the area. I have never hunted a more rewarding method.

Each Veteran’s Day weekend a group of friends would schedule a hunt on Glass Peninsula and reserve the Forest Service cabin located on the other side of the peninsula. One of the best kept secrets of Alaska, the United States Forest Service has log cabins scattered throughout the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. Most of the cabins can only be reached by boat or floatplane and have bunks for six to eight people. The cabins make Alaskan hunting enjoyable in the rainy Southeast Alaska winter.

Friday afternoon we made the run around Douglas Island and across the channel into Oliver Inlet. After anchoring the boat we spent the rest of the afternoon packing our gear across the mile wide neck to the cabin. In November sunset comes around four o’clock so we finished the job in the dark. Fortunately sunrise comes late. Saturday morning we divided up with most of us hunting the lower ridges near the cabin and around the inlet.

That night we had a great meal from the camp stove while drying our gear from the warmth of the woodstove. All but one of us had drawn blanks. Tracy had hunted a ridge line about three miles from the cabin and had shot two bucks. He had packed out the hind quarters from one and hung the remaining meat and carcass in a tree. Since it was more than halfway through the hunting season and I had no meat in the freezer I accepted Tracy’s offer to pack out the whole deer. I wanted more of the backstrap steaks we enjoyed for dinner. During the night we had the first snow of the season.

I will never forget that second day of hunting on Glass Peninsula. Dave decided to stay at the cabin due to a severe headache. So the rest of us started out the door into the early morning darkest. As I crossed the threshold two shots rang out from the bottom of the steps. Tracy had kept his rifle on the front porch so his scope would not fog. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw a nice buck running out onto the moonlit snow covered grass flats at the top of the cove. The fresh snow contrasted with the deer well enough that it was like shooting by street lamplight. Most of us had not stepped off the front porch and a deer was already down. Backtracking we discovered he had been standing at the bottom of the steps when we startled him. Dave volunteered to skin the deer so the rest of us could continue hunting.

About a half mile up the trail Tracy led me off toward the ridgeline where yesterday’s kill hung. Over the next two miles we found deer in every meadow. I had four tags to fill but already had one three mile hike to get out yesterday’s buck. Before I shot my first deer of the day Tracy and I stopped on the tree line and discussed the buck’s merit and the packing involved. He was a healthy animal with a good rack so I decided to drop him. We repeated the debate twice more before getting to Tracy’s buck. By ten in the morning I faced packing four deer to the cabin. Tracy left me with my problem while he went looking for a bigger buck.

Sitka Blacktails are smaller than most whitetails. My four bucks each weighed around one hundred and fifteen pounds. Over the years of deer hunting I had assembled gear that was designed for packing meat. I had a pack frame with a shelf and a collection of heavy duck sacks that were about the diameter of a pie plate and three feet long. I hung each deer and skinned and boned the carcass. By trimming all the bone and fat I ended up with around two hundred pounds of meat. I did some quick math. I could make several trips with lighter loads but end up walking ten miles or one trip heavily loaded. I decided to compress the anguish into one trip. Strapping the sacks onto the frame I started down hill.

I thought the next two hours would never end, but I did gain a new understanding of Galatians 6:1-5. The toughest part of packing a heavy load is the transition from the ground to the shoulders. Getting the load to the shoulders takes so much energy it is better not dropping the load. So how does one rest if they can’t put down their load? As I came down the ridge I looked for every blowdown and stump I could find. When I found one the right height I would turn around and back up to the trunk. Propping up the frame I could give my shoulders, back, and thighs a rest. Back at the cabin I discovered my heavy duty frame was warped.

Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens” but three verses later writes, “For each [person] will bear his own load.” Is this one of those “contradictions” biblical nay sayers are always talking about, or does Galatians give us practical advice for living out our faith in community with other Christians? The Greek word used by Paul for “burden” means a heavy load, a pack frame warping load, an exhausting load. In verse five the Greek word translated “load” means a “day pack,” a load that everyone normally carries.

If you want guidelines for small group accountability this passage is for you. Most young men I speak with today express a desire to be mentored by an older Christian and want to be in a small accountability group. Perhaps this is a generational expression of the importance of community, or their awareness of the failure of the Boomer generation’s individualism. Paul prescribes the first condition of accountability, spiritual health. When Paul states that one must be “spiritual” to confront a sinning brother he does mean that only spiritually mature super saints are qualified. But, one is required to be spirit filled, confessed up to date, and in right standing with God to be involved in confrontation. The second requirement to assist a fallen brother is humility. Paul’s words carry a tone of warning. If we do not remain painfully aware of our own past sins and ongoing potential for sinning and therefore reject self-righteousness we will not have the brokenness prerequisite for being used by God. We might not fall into the sin of the brother we are seeking to restore but we will become the legalistic individuals Jesus’ often condemned.

Living in a fallen world means we all have burdens. Paul reminds us to examine our own lives and understand our own personalities. Each of us has our own areas of sin. I don’t struggle with gluttony, or anger, but I do constantly battle pride. That is the day pack God expects me to carry. As I continue to mature in that area of my Christian walk I can rejoice in what the Holy Spirit has accomplished in my life.

Sometimes the burdens become too much to carry and there are no stumps and deadfalls to provide a rest to the weary. Pornography and sexual immorality defeats Christian men in epidemic proportions today. I know men that have destroyed their marriages, lost their families, and left the ministry as a result of sexual impurity. A Christian brother in that situation needs someone to “come along beside” (the Greek word Jesus used to refer to the Holy Spirit) him and take the load off. I can not remove the total burden but I let him know he is not alone. Otherwise, how can a fallen man believe that God loves him when God’s people don’t demonstrate that love?

I have had several hunting partners over the years, men with whom I enjoyed spending time in the woods. Over time I noticed that we all carried our hunting packs without complaint but were quick to split out a heavy load among us so no one carried a crushing load. They made each trip memorable.

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