What!!?? An epic???? Hardly. It was a beautiful one-day hunt in my own backyard, a piece of country and its critters that I’m intimately familiar with. What happened was a communications snafu, parties on both ends guilty of not being entirely clear about the day’s plan. That ever happen between you, your mate and family? Yeah, yeah, plus there’s this insidious reliance upon digital devices i.e. cell phone to cover the miscommunication. Be able to check-in, have ‘constant contact’.
I deeply appreciate that my beloveds are watching my backside, concerned about the challenges a geezer might face knocking about in the forest on a snowy, cold day, darkness coming on. Yet, they know I’ve been there many times through all the seasons of my wild rambling…….
Really, the last thing I want during the hunt is a jingle, hum, throb, fart, bugle, or whatever sound, emanating from a cell phone going off in my pocket. Out there, away from the human family, I want to be fully tuned into Wild Nature, its signs and messages. At the heart of the hunt is a profound connection with and love for the wildlife I seek to harvest for our meals. There’s no other time that I feel so connected to that wildlife and its habitat, am as aware of my own energy and its message. You feel - and the quarry knows - that you’ve become the predator. I like to hunt alone, move at my own pace and eschew aides that may enhance success like elk scents and calls. Or a cell phone to communicate with if you’re in the field with a fellow hunter. It’s about one’s ethic of ‘fair chase’. I don’t have to succeed, have spent days following game just to get to know them and their home better. Most hunters would agree whether pursuing large game, birds or fish that the hunt alone is fulfilling. It’s a time when you’re incredibly present.
So, it was the first significant snow of the oncoming winter. Cut some fresh track, the story about what the band of elk I followed were doing with their day quite plain. Caught up with them, watched, they not aware of my presence. At one point, knew it was time for their day-bed and being familiar with how elk used this particular terrain in their daily peregrinations, knew where that would be. Took a break to let them move on. Enjoyed a keen feeling. Dozed.
Went up the mountain to the bedding area, the storm passed. The silence was the silence of windless winter days. There were no raucous corvids or squirrels chattering to signal my presence. I located the sentries first, those elk that post themselves at the perimeter of a bedding area as I moved step by quiet step. A young bull, forelegs beneath him, lay in the saddle on the west side of the bedding hollow, some cows with him chewing their cud. A couple of cows, separate from each other, lay on the ridge to the north and above the hollow. Nothing below me that I could see. I moved silently into the hollow, saw more elk bedded, stopped immediately, took a position. Waited.
She fell immediately from the single shot I fired. The others rose to their feet, took stock of the situation. Some bolted, but only a short distance. Eventually, they all bounded away downslope. Before field dressing the elk, I gave thanksgiving for her spirit, the important part of the sustenance she would provide for Sarah, myself, family and friends at mealtime.
Coming down the mountain as the last light faded on the hills and mountains of the Boulders and Pioneer ranges, the Wood River Valley, I saw the elk band grazing peacefully on another slope. I felt very happy. Met a gal searching for me, saw her relief when she called that I’d been found. I said, “Damn, guess I got to get a cell phone” after which we discussed the merits of being connected to the village while on Nature’s turf. At the trailhead, I offered my hand, dry blood all over it, to a big policeman who was orchestrating the search from this end of the country. We shook hands. All was well.