When Milos Cihelka was a kid in the former Czechoslovakia, one of his jobs was to clean the rabbits and pheasants his dad brought home from the local market.
When he escaped 60 years ago from what was then a Soviet satellite - slipping through the barbed wire under the guns of border guards - his dream was to move to Canada or the United States, and to be able hunt those animals and others himself. In Czechoslovakia, hunters had to turn their kill over to the state game warden
He emigrated to Canada and then eventually to the United States, where he became one of America's early celebrity chefs and founded the famed Southfield, Mich., restaurant called The Golden Mushroom.
He also became a dyed-in-the-wool hunter who traveled across North America to practice that art, most of the time preferring archery to guns.
"I always wanted to kill a bull elk with a bow. I've killed three black bears with a bow, a bull moose and so many deer I can't count them," Cihelka said. "I did kill a cow elk in the `70s, but while I made several trips trying to get a bull, I never was able to do it."
Until Sept. 12, when the 77-year-old hunter from Bloomfield Hills used his 60-pound Matthews Switchback compound bow to put an arrow into a 600-plus pound, 6-by-6 bull at 50 yards during a hunt in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico.
"It all happened so fast," Cihelka said. "It was the second day of the hunt, and the previous evening we watched four cows and a bull about 200 yards away coming down a hill. We stalked to within about 10 yards, then one of the cows spotted us and they were gone."
The next day they hunted for four hours without any luck.
"We were thinking about leaving, and the guide bugled one more and got an instant reply really close," Cihelka said.
He and the guide moved cautiously about 50 yards closer to the sound "when all of a sudden I saw the bull."
Cihelka raised his bow.
"Just at the moment the elk spun around and walked out from behind the tree, but he stopped and looked at us for a second and I put the 50-yard pin on his chest and let the arrow go. But he took a couple of bounding steps forward, just as I shot, and I hit him real far back," Cihelka said. "The guide said, `You hit him in the ass,' and I thought, `Oh, no! After all these years trying to kill a bull I've wounded one that we aren't going to find.' "
Heartsick, Cihelka and the guide went to the spot where the elk had been standing and found nothing to indicate a hit.
They started a search "and in a few yards I found a spot of blood. Then about 30 yards farther the guide found a piece of fat. The guide looked ahead with his binoculars and said, `He's lying right up there.' The elk had run only about 150 yards. My arrow had cut the femoral artery."
As America's first certified master chef, Cihelka is fanatically fussy about how he handles meat from game. Whereas most American hunters simply butcher the animal and bring the meat home immediately, Cihelka gave most of his elk to his guide, reserving for himself the loins "which I'm having aged on the bone for about three weeks. Then they'll bone it out and ship it to me."
He routinely hangs freshly shot game animals and birds for a week to three weeks before butchering them, a common practice in Europe and one that produces extremely tender meat.
"I was happy just to keep the loins," he said. "I get so much venison locally that I don't need any more."
And he doesn't eat much meat. Cihelka said he eats "small portions and fairly healthy food. We have meatless meals about three days a week."
Cihelka plans to keep hunting as long as he is able to get into the field.
"I put in for a draw for a deer tag in Iowa. I don't know if I'll get one this year, but if I don't, I should have enough (deer lottery) points built up that I'll get one for sure next year," he said. "And next year I'm thinking of a trip to Alaska to try for a musk ox with a bow. They say you can go in September and not freeze your buns off."