Hunting: Day 9 Epilogue

Here’s my epilogue
They were somewhere, I was naught
Never heard a herd

Although I never pulled the trigger, no one can say I didn’t give it my best shot. I ended this hunting season as I began it—elkless—but richer, still, for the experience.

Mike and I watched another magical morning bloom across the sky as we moved through our last hunting area of the season. Knowing that this was our last day, my last chance to do something I’ve lost sleep over these past several weeks, we walked more slowly than ever. Even so, the “scrunch” of dry snow and ice under our boots was too loud.

Day 9 morn

We agreed that if we saw nothing this morning, we’d call it quits for the day. We whispered little. When we did, it was the usual, “This would be a great place for them to hide,” followed by, “Yeah, I know, they should be here,” followed by, “They’re probably peeing on our car right now,” followed by muffled chuckles. It really was comical, or sad, depending on your perspective. I’ll go with comical.

Day after day of prodding poop piles (a band name, perhaps?) made me recall a story my dad used to enjoy telling, the one about two little boys sent to play in a room filled with horse shit for a day. When they got home, the mom asked about their day. One boy cried and complained about all the poop. The other boy gleefully exclaimed his willingness to return the next day because “with all that horse poo, there must be a pony in there somewhere”!

The only real “signs” we saw today, however, were signs of disrespectful hunters, and Day 9 morn 4that made us both angry. I’ll never understand why anyone would think it’s okay to leave beer cans and bottles littering the outdoors. I hoped they went home elkless as well.

When we reached the farthest point in our search, it was time to head back home. We both decided there was no need for stealth, and had we been the hunted, we would have made easy targets. It was a bizarre thought, I know, but it did cross my mind as we hustled back noisily to the 4-Runner. Too many “Hunger Games” movies, I suppose.

By the time we returned home, I decided I would return to a close-in site for the last few hours of the day.

“I’ll go by myself,” I told Mike, not wanting him to feel obligated to watch the ball drop, so to speak, on my first hunting season.

“Why would you do that?” he asked. “Of course I’m going with you,” he continued, looking at me as if I had grown an extra nose.

So without going into the step by step details, the most exciting moment of the evening was when I caught movement in the trees behind us. I spun around and put my scope on the biggest rabbit I have ever seen.

Day 9 end2“Don’t shoot the rabbit with the .308,” said Mike matter-of-factly.

“Oh, but…,” I protested. The sun was disappearing over the mountains and I was hungry. And did I say it was the biggest rabbit I had ever seen? It wasn’t elk-size, of course, but it would have made quite a stew.

I sure did want to end my hunting blog with a thrilling conclusion and photos of me elbows deep in the guts of my first kill. But it just wasn’t meant to be.

I did, however, confirm what we have known all along…that those wily beasts have been following us…and laughing.

Day 9 end

Day 9 end3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting: Day 8 Evening

Running out of ways
To say we’re elkless again
But still having fun

Or are we? Sure we are. And honestly, I can’t believe the weather we’ve had this week. Sadly, it’s weather that doesn’t motivate herds of elk to come out of the mountains for warmth.

Ranger holding on

Ranger did his best to prevent me from leaving this evening, and the text message I received from one of my four sisters—“Why don’t you just drink wine like the rest of us…wtf?”—almost made me reconsider our evening hunt.

 

But I can’t end this week saying, “I’ll bet we would have bagged one if we had gone out that 8th night.” And so off we went to a location near the death-by-hills area. I drove the trusty 4-Runner up inclines I wasn’t sure it could handle, white-knuckled the whole way up.

“If you have a long shot,” Mike whispered to me when we were close to the top of the world, “I’ll bend over and you can brace yourself on my back.”

I swear, the man really must love me.

“Um, yeah, no. Don’t think I’ll be doing that,” I whispered back as gratefully as I could. willowsAlthough we saw many perfect places for elk to hang out at the end of the day, like this swath of willows, we never saw a sign of habitation. Not even by a long shot.

Driving back down at the end of the evening made me realized just how far we had climbed on our previous hunts, and once I could release my death-grip on the steering wheel, I was able to bask in the glory of my physical accomplishments.

And now we’re down to one more day. So tell me, honestly,

Shadow selfie lastdoes this pack make my ass look fat? Oh, and thanks for enduring the endless chronicles of my hunting season.

 

Hunting: Day 8 Morning

Running out of time
One more hunting day remains
Elk laugh knowingly

Ranger looked up at me this morning with an expression that said, “Who are you and what have you done with my mom?” He has not been pleased with these days of pre-sunup excitement, and this morning’s 04:50 alarm was just too much. He skulked back to bed.

day 8 morning4

Mike and I were on site and I was ready to shoot even before the moment it would be legal.day 8 morning The moon was still high over the mountains, and it was bitter cold even though I was day 8 morning2dressed like an Eskimo. We thought we might stake out a place we had identified last night, but after standing motionless for almost 15 minutes, our toes started to freeze and even I agreed I’d rather be hiking.

We moved at a noiseless pace, and I finally felt like a “real” hunter. Having to control each foot placement helped to generate body heat. Moment by moment our surroundings unfolded with the nearly imperceptible brightening of the sky right before sunrise.

Two glorious mule deer sprang across an opening to our front, about 50 meters away, and my heart raced. I wondered if mule deer hung out with elk, but I hadn’t come across that in any of my pre-hunting-season research. Still, I took it as a good sign.

For two hours we scoured the forest and poked at poop-piles, “me and my shadow,” until we had completed a sizeable circuit ending back at the vehicle.

day 8 morning3

“I’d say we go home, get some breakfast, and maybe come back later,” said my shadow. It was unlike Mike to call it quits so quickly, but then he moved past the vehicle. “Maybe one more traverse down that way,” he said, and I felt like he had read my mind.

“Sounds good,” I said, still in a whisper.

“We don’t have to move as stealthily this time,” he whispered back.

Roger that, I thought. “Okay,” came out of my mouth.

We spent another half-hour hiking and hoping the herds of sleepy elk would somehow find their way to us and sacrifice one of their own to our cause, but I guess that’s just not how it happens.

Stay tuned for tonight’s episode of “Looking for Luck in All the Wrong Places”!

Hunting: Day 7

Lost my funny bone
“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs”
But that’s about all

Yup. If finally happened. I lost my sense of humor this morning.

Mike and I were back where we had hunted last weekend, where I had silently cursed the endless inclines, where a friend—just the day after we were there—harvested an elk. “Harvest: to catch, take, or remove for use.” Sounds far more acceptable than “shot,” eh?

Anyway, we both felt like this would be our lucky day. It was time, I reasoned. Sure, I knew statistics were against us and only about 25% of hunters successfully filled their tags each season, but we had been doing more than due diligence!

The day was clear and not too cold. I was surprised by the comfort of the pack on my back and the rifle in my hands. Day after day of putting in the hours was paying off.

After almost two hours of sleuthing, nature made an insistent call.

“I reeeally need to go!” I whispered to Mike after peeling off my top jacket. With the sun up, the day was growing warm.

“Did you bring paper?” he whispered back.

“No, I’ll just use a stick,” I said.

“Gross,” he responded.

“Baby,” I called him.

When I finished—one of those magical experiences that didn’t even require a stick!—I felt light on my feet despite the weight in my pack, which felt just a bit weightier than when I had donned it earlier. Nevertheless, we were back to sleuthing and still felt confident.

But hours passed. Yes, the day was lovely. Yes, I was spending time with my husband. And yes, regardless of the day’s outcome, I was in a place with no laundry to fold, no dishes to wash, no bills to pay. So why did I start to lose my sense of humor?

I did my best to accept Mike’s suggestions for which trail to follow next even though they inevitably led back up increasingly steep hills. I hate steep hills. I hate steep hills with a passion. I’ve lived at 10,200’ for eight years now and I still get winded climbing the stairs at home.

So I really tried not to resent his suggestions and his ability to climb steep hills like a mountain goat. But it was becoming more difficult. My head was telling me, “He wants to find an elk as badly as you do, so pull up your big-girl panties and drive on,” but my body was screaming, “Hello! I’m sending you signs! This is hurting me as much as it’s hurting you!”

Something ran across the crest of a hill when I was about to throw down my weapon and pout. That was all it took to get me moving again, even though Mike and I both agreed it was probably a deer.

Into the fifth hour of beating around the bush, however, in addition to the stabbing plantar fasciitis in my left heal, I started feeling like I was developing trigger-elbow in my right arm and stock-wrist in my left from holding my weapon at-the-ready for so long.

Five hours of being “at-the-ready,” of anticipating the moment I would crest the final hill and see a whole herd of elk just chillin’ on the other side, of studying each step before I took it, suddenly took its toll.

I used to think I might actually have a moment of hesitation before pulling the trigger if I were ever to get an elk in my crosshairs, but no more. I was ready to scream, “Make my day, wily beast! Make my frickin day!”

“My fun meter is pegged,” I whispered to Mike, and he agreed that it might be time to head back home for something to eat and maybe even a nap. We’d try again in the evening.

It seemed to take forever to get back to the car. Screw these stealthy steps, I thought, and practically stomped down one of the many hills we had earlier climbed. When we were almost out of the woods, we came across the elk bones we had seen frosted with snow the first weekend of hunting.

“I want the spine,” I told Mike.skull mask

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yup,” I said.

“What are you going to do with it?” he asked.

“Probably hang it on a wall,” I said. And with that, he wrapped it in a plastic bag and carried it out for me. I packed away my petulance.

After a monster-sized brunch and a snooze, we followed a friend to a place he knew had roaming herds, and although we came home empty-handed again, the location was hill-less and I was happy. We’ll go back out tomorrow because…

There were lots of signs!

Hunting: Day 6

Day 6

Another peaceful
Morning alone in the woods
Wish elk would visit

Before the sun rose this morning, the full moon rolled over the edge of Mt. Massive with startling speed. After the confidence boost I got from my solo evening hunt, I decided to try my luck one more time before Mike returned. Not normally a morning person, I was proudHunting sun selfie of myself for getting up and out before the town awoke, especially since I had barely slept last night. I spent most of the night ruminating about what I would do if I actually saw a potential target, and if I was successful, how I would position myself for my “first kill selfie.”

I need not have ruminated. For three and a half hours I meandered through an area suggested by a friend, and although I spent most of the time in wooded areas, I never strayed too far from points I could identify. After all, I didn’t have my hunting buddy with me, and hadn’t yet learned how to use my GPS in the wild.

I enjoyed taking my time exploring things that caught my eye: the base of an old television, feathersa mysterious hanging bucket, a tin can cemetery, beautiful feathers left from someone’s meal, and although I came home without seeing anything larger than a squirrel, the experience left me feeling happier than if I had stayed at home and slept a few more hours, something I will do right about now.

Hunting: Day 4

The least I could do today is write a haiku or two or three for thee:

Election drama
Other income requirements
No hunting today

Listen to my legs
Sore muscles beg for relief
Day of rest for elk

Hunting pants folded
A feet-to-the-fire morning
Ranger’s happy too

Ranger on floor

Hoping someone will hunt with me tomorrow (not that I couldn’t go out again by myself)! Any takers?

Hunting: Day 3

Day 3

Don’t try this at home
Shouldn’t go hunting alone
I went anyway

Since Mike had to travel for the next few days and my writing buddy was horrified by the idea of going hunting with me (my invitation startled her speechless), I was forced to make a decision. Either give up on a perfectly good evening of hunting (my morning was booked), or go by myself. I realized—as I was making it—that it was a foolish decision. My internal mother-voice was screaming, “Don’t be a moron! What do you think you’re doing?”

But I had to do it. I had to see if I had the guts to go it alone, just me, my pack, and the elk-slayer. I’ve recently found myself wondering about age-related things, like, when was it that I stopped working on my handstands? I used to be pretty good at doing them. Sure, I may be 55, but Jack LaLanne was doing his insane workouts until the week before he died at age 96! Yes, I had to go hunting by myself. I would only be out for a couple of hours, and I would head home before the sun set. Maybe I would even try a handstand when I got home.

Halfway up the rocky, snowy road I started to get nervous and ate the third of six “fun size” Snickers bars I would consume just getting to the trailhead. Although I probably should have lost several pounds with all the hunting and hiking I’ve done these last couple of weeks, I’ve used the increase in energy expenditure to justify my over-indulgence in the chocolaty treats.

In any case, my “what ifs” were going into overdrive. What if I get stuck? How would I turn my 4-Runner around on the steep, narrow, icy trail? What if my brakes won’t work on the way back down? I had myself worked into a tizzy and almost turned around at a wide area on the ascent, but I couldn’t give up that easily. With a half-mile to go before I could hunt, my tires spun in a rut. “Shit,” I whispered, as if I would scare away a potential target if I had said it any louder.

I was able to back up—Phew!—and decided I probably shouldn’t drive any farther. I parked off-trail and geared up. “Shit,” I whispered again when I realized I had left my gloves at home. Alas, all I could find in my normally-well-stocked vehicle was a pair of blue rubber-coated garden gloves. “Perhaps this is telling you something,” my mother-voice whispered. I ignored it and stuck the silly gloves into my pocket.

The surge of adrenaline I experienced when I loaded the .308 surprised me, and for a brief moment I thought I might have to rush to the woods to unload, um, the Snickers bars. The feeling passed, however, and I started down the slippery trail with the stealthiest steps I could manage. I saw many tracks crossing the road. Bunnies. Squirrels. Birds. I couldn’t remember what mountain lion tracks looked like, but I was pretty sure I didn’t see any of those.

scope 3I stopped frequently as I maneuvered down the trail and practiced a sighting drill my friend John taught me. Look at the target, keep both eyes open and on target, bring the weapon up so the scope is in line with your sighting eye, and voilà! Ready to fire! I got better and faster each time I practiced. That sitting squirrel had no idea how cute he looked in my crosshairs.

When I finally reached the area where we had hunted on Dayblue glove 1, I settled down in a spot with good visibility in several directions. The blue rubber gloves proved to be most unsatisfactory, but I had grabbed a couple of expired hand-warmer packets from my vehicle and they provided a bit of heat.

For the next half-hour I sat in silence as the sun settled into the trees. I knew there would be no reckless herds of elk wandering across my path with “Shoot me!” signs on their sides, and if there had been, I probably would have shot pictures. What was I thinking, hunting alone?

snow selfieI brushed the snow off my butt and started back up to my vehicle, practicing my aiming skills every few minutes along the way. I could have continued to hunt for another hour, but I wanted to make the drive back while there was still some ambient light. I couldn’t resist taking a snow-selfie. Roger Miller’s song “King of the road” played in my head when I saw my impressive shadow on the snowy surface. It was better than my pesky mother-voice.

When I spotted my vehicle, I felt like I had accomplished something. I had overcome my fear of doing something “risky” at my middle-age, and alone.

The rising moon and setting sun were the spoils of my hunt.

moon over mosquito

sunset over Elbert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took my time driving down the mountain. When I got home, I tried a handstand. Next time I won’t use the door. Oh, and don’t tell my mother.

handstand

Hunting Haikus (and more!): Days 1 and 2

Day 1

He trusts me to walk
Behind him with loaded gun.
Crazy husband, mine.

Since I began my “Hunting with Hubby” story with a haiku, I figured I should do the same for my week of hunting. Although I was able to take lots of notes with my iPhone (on airplane mode, of course!) while following Mike for days and days last week, I do not have Sako .308the same luxury this week as I am the one carrying the Sako .308 elk-slayer. Therefore, instead of waiting until the end of the week to gather my notes into one story, I’ll do my best to capture the highlights of “My Turn to Bag the Wily Elk” each day. I have until 5:29 p.m. on November 9th to accomplish this.


We started before sunrise yesterday in an area we were told had lots of activity. We covered tons of terrain and I found myself dressed too warmly again. Since I was in the lead this time, however, I got to chose when and where to stop, and I took lots of cool-down and pee breaks. The most exciting activity we experienced ended up being two frisky squirrels bolting out of a nearby tree chasing one another, and one nearly running up my well-camouflaged leg! It took everything in my power not to jump and scream like a little girl, even though there were no elk within earshot.

The day was gorgeous and Mike did his best to locate the source of tidbits left on trails, but to no avail. Mike with scope

Here’s my haiku from yesterday’s attempt:

No beginner’s luck
Humming “Kumbayah, my elk”
Only squirrels come

Day 2:

We started the hunt this morning feeling hopeful. With the extra hour of sleep (why are we still observing Daylight Savings Time?) and anticipation that the light snowfall would make it easy to find our tasty temptress (I, too, have a cow tag), we set out to a new location.

Hours later with much terrain covered following teasing signs on trails, we returned to the vehicle, elkless again. The spider webs that yesterday glinted with sunshine today were like strands of snow pearls hanging from the trees. Not too far from the road, we found evidence of elk in the area.

snowy elk skull

This morning’s haiku:

Snow frosted elk skull
Successful kill for someone
Sorry it’s not mine

Along with the skull were the pelvic bones and spine, all white as the snow that soon would bury them.

Knowing that we would find easy trails in the snow, we returned to the same spot this afternoon. With me in the lead and feeling like this could be “it,” I did my best to ignore the loud scrunching of our boots as we forged forward into the forest. At first it was humorous,photo 3 but with each step, my boots became heavier and heavier until I could kick off the mounting platform. I felt a bit like Frankenstein.

Frankenstein trudges
Hiking boots laden with snow
Scaring elk away

After a couple of hours of seeing nothing but rabbit and squirrel tracks, I started to get a little irritated. I was tired. I was hungry. I was making far too much noise in the winter wonderland of woods and caved-in mine shafts to sneak up on any prey. It was snowing, the sun was setting, and all I really wanted to do was go home and enjoy a glass of wine. Screw the wily elk.

Mike could tell I was starting to feel petulant and took the lead, trusting me to follow him, on slippery surfaces, with a loaded rifle. When he suggested that we crest one more hill to “see what was on the other side,” I almost cried. Instead, I turned around.

photo 2

photo 1

 

 

“See?” he whispered. “We’re doing real hunting. There aren’t too many people seeing this view tonight.” And he was right. We decided then to go just a bit further before heading back (how I loved to hear that phrase!).

Not 20 feet away, we found a fresh track, an elk track, in the snow, heading downhill. With adrenaline pumping, we followed the trail down and down and down…and down…and around…until it stopped, right by a large pine tree. I looked up. Not there. It was truly time to head home.

photo 1 (2)

By the time we reached our vehicle, it was quite dark. The rising moon shone through the foggy haze of rolling clouds and melting snow.

Perhaps tomorrow will be “it,” the day I will bring down my first elk. If not, I’ll just have to suffer through my spectacular surroundings a little longer.

Wish me luck!

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Stacey Gustafson has a new book out! Her delightful vignettes of real life in a really loud family will have you chuckling as you remember your own first “training bra,” the embarrassment you felt when your “rewrapping” habit backfired, and the wonder you felt as you finally opened those mysterious boxes after moving them too many times. Organized by category with quick reads in each section, these stories will let you know you’re not the only one who has struggled through humorously troublesome predicaments (read “Toilet Phobia”)!

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