The plan was to be where we think the elk like to be this time of year at daylight. Of course, that’s always the plan. The idea is to be up there among the elk while they are still out in the open or on the edges of open areas feeding on lush grass. We want to get to them be there before they move into the thick cover of dark timber on the north sides of the ridges.

Sometimes it works out.

We hit the trail a good two hours before daylight to complete the long climb in time. After an ungodly early alarm and a wolfed-down breakfast of yogurt and toast, we climbed into the truck and left camp with Sparky at the wheel. He slowed and stopped, we bumped fists, and I slipped out of the truck and headed off uphill. Sparky continued up the road a couple of miles before parking the truck and beginning his own long dark climb. We had loose plans to rendezvous in the general vicinity of a familiar trail junction in early afternoon. Failing that, I knew where the truck would be parked.

Even after more than fifty years of those solitary early morning walks in the darkness, my mind still dances with one imagined scenario after another of what awaits somewhere near the top of the mountain.

In one, a bull elk has taken up residence beneath a huge, gnarly old Doug fir that stands alone in the middle of a grassy park just below the high point on the south side of the ridge. The bull does not sense my approach. The wind is downhill, in my face. My footsteps are almost soundless. I have plenty of time to prepare to shoot. The haul out will be relatively direct and downhill. Sparky and I will be able to get the quartered elk out of the woods in two trips each up and back down the long hill with pack frames loaded with meat.

In another, I walk through that meadow and settle in at a good vantage point on the north side of the ridge where elk will pass as they move from grassy slopes to cover for the day. I watch as a gang of elk files by forty and fifty yards downslope,  oblivious to my presence. I wait after the last cow and calf move on into the woods and the young bull trailing along behind shows itself.  I will have plenty of time to take a good shot. This elk will be a bit more difficult to retrieve. We will have to haul it uphill before we take it back down the other side of the mountain. But it still won’t be too difficult.

In between these pleasant imaginings, I move upward in the predawn fog, keenly aware of my legs, my sometimes-aching knees, and my breathing. I stop frequently for short breaks and to scan the way ahead in the beam of my headlamp. I listen for the sound of broken twigs and branches and the thumping of hooves of alarmed animals.  I take note of the chattering of squirrels and the occasional rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker. I pay attention to the direction of the wind, hoping the downslope breeze will continue.

By daylight, I am above the blanket of fog that laps at the surrounding mountains like a lake far below. The imagined bull elk does not materialize in the meadow where I had placed it in my minds eye. After waiting for some time at the spot where I planned to watch the elk parade past me, it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen.

That’s when I remembered a discussion with Sparky the previous evening.

“You know, as we get older, it might be a good idea to give some thought to changing our tactics from trying to walk elk into submission to just finding a good spot and watching and waiting as long as we can stand it,” I had suggested.

“I know we should do that, but it’s real hard for me to sit still that long,” Sparky replied.

“What about if we had something to read? I was watching one of those awful hunting shows on the whispering channel the other day and saw a guy sitting in a deer hunting blind reading a book. Maybe we could try that.”

“Well, I did bring along a couple of issues of The Economist for bedtime reading. Maybe that would work. Do you want one ?”  I took him up on it.

So, on Saturday morning, when I came to a spot I thought might be good to just sit and watch, I sat down and pulled The Economist out of my pack. I read, watched, read some more, watched some more, and maybe snoozed some. I couldn’t help wondering what somebody who happened by and encountered me reading the magazine would think. The thought mad e me smile. But I couldn’t sit as long as I would have liked. Eventually, I had to get up and start moving again. After all, an elk might be right around the next corner.

Much later in the day, I was quietly making my way across the broad back of a long e ridge when I heard a gentle whistle . I turned to see Sparky heading my way. We exchanged reports. Sparky had actually seen a couple of bull elk but had no decent opportunity for a shot. He was pretty excited about that, and his excitement was contagious. I felt reinvigorated when we headed out on different paths.

Ten hours after we had parted ways in the early morning darkness, we converged on the truck. We again swapped stories and then headed back to camp, tired and satisfied. Sparky allowed as how he was glad he hadn’t filled his tag on the first day of the season.

“This is too much fun. I don’t want it to be over that soon,” he said.

I feel that way, too. The fun has just begun.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *