Last week I told you about my style of hunting, minimalist and solitary. Today I will recount the first hours of the first day of my elk and deer season, October, 2012.
Quietly and on high alert, I cross the meadow west of my house. Erik is going northeast, planning to climb a hill and drop down to the pond about a forty-minute walk away. If we do not see animals, we will probably meet up on the trail home within a few hours. I cross the “lay-down” fence on to the property north of my house, walking northwest and uphill now. The hill ahead of me, directly north, is very steep. Looking up, I can see scrub oak hiding places and know the elk are often there….no brown body parts yet. I move slowly, stopping every few feet to glass the hillside above me, staying behind trees and stepping quietly over fallen timber. The pine beetle have decimated a huge part of this forest, worse over the hill than where I am walking now. The downed timber provides an obstacle course fit for training any competitive athlete or military group! I lift my knees and place my feet between logs, getting a good upper leg workout and praying that I remain sure-footed and don’t snap an ankle. More dangerous after snowfall obscures their exact locations, these fallen trees are both hazards to keep me alert and challenges to keep me fit!
Rapidly crossing an open space of about 20 yards, I angle uphill and over the spot Erik got his elk last year. On to the location of my first deer harvest on this property, I realize I identify geography by deer and elk kills over the past few years.
Gasp! Is it audible, or just in my head? Brown body parts!! I freeze, and then drop to the ground below a tiny rise and behind some scrub oak. Slowly I remove my hat, pull up my binoculars and scan the trees where I thought I saw horizontal brown. I have seen countless elk-colored rocks and trees in my twenty-some years of hunting, so I am not 100% sure I glimpsed animals. I carefully peruse the trees, mostly the gaps between the trees and…there they are! Less than 100 yards away, I spot at least three cow elk, grazing at the still slightly green grasses and moving very slowly. They are not alarmed. They have not seen me! Or smelled me or heard me. I have been careful to check wind direction periodically, as it often shifts around the hills and valleys, so I know that, at least for now, I am not blowing my scent at them.
My heart rate has slowed from the initial surge of adrenalin and I am no longer shaking, so can now hold my binoculars steady and watch. Three cows are visible at the edge of the dark timber. I am across an area of stunted scrub (altitude is probably around 9000 feet) and grass and only slightly below them. At this time, even though I am close, there is no possibility of getting a shot…just not enough space between the trees. The cows are almost completely obscured, often showing only tiny parts of their enormous bodies. I see at least two heads bob up and down as they graze, another “Texas heart” (rear end) daring me to shoot.
Decision time. If I move, they will undoubtedly sense me, by sight, smell or hearing. If I wait, they may offer me a shot. While no one has hunted or even hiked in this exact area for weeks, the surrounding acres have all had hunters during the previous season, so the elk are more wary than usual. They typically stay hidden and are not likely to wander out of the trees. I settle in, still on my stomach, propped on elbows and feeling like a real hunter, not just a shooter. After 10 or 15 minutes of essentially no change of position of either the elk or me, I rest, lowering myself all the way to the ground to give my upper body a break. When I return to my observation position, I glance 25 years to the right and above “my cows.” Another horizontal brown spot! Movement behind it and I recognize a large cow and a calf! With no shot possible at either of them, I return my binoculars to the original three. They have now become four. Here I am, watching six elk and unable to get a shot, to move to anywhere I can get a shot, or do anything but wait. Thirty minutes later, I am still waiting….and the elk are still eating and unaware that I am watching. I am definitely a real hunter now!
To Be Continued…