No Day 5 hunting
Waiting for Mike to return
We’ll get one Friday!
No Day 5 hunting
Waiting for Mike to return
We’ll get one Friday!
The least I could do today is write a haiku or two or three for thee:
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
Hoping someone will hunt with me tomorrow (not that I couldn’t go out again by myself)! Any takers?
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.
I 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 Day 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?
I 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.
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.
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 the 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.
Here’s my haiku from yesterday’s attempt:
No beginner’s luck
Humming “Kumbayah, my elk”
Only squirrels come
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.
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, but with each step, my boots became heavier and heavier until I could kick off the mounting platform. I felt a bit like Frankenstein.
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.
“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.
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!
Hunting wily elk
Wilderness protects them all
Caught my man instead
Steaming sweat streamed down my spine. My 20-pound pack was plastered to my back. I had overdressed, once again, for the last day of hunting season. Or perhaps Mike was moving just a tad too fast up the endless incline, eager for success on that last day. No, I had certainly overdressed.
Although Mike hunted squirrels in his boyhood days, the only hunting I had ever done was for bargains at department stores. I had never dreamed of a day I’d be hunting elk, or any other animal, but there I was in the wilds of Colorado, excited for the shot that would guarantee us fresh meat for months. Mike had the cow tag. He would shoot, and I would do the field dressing. For days and sleepless nights, I practiced in my head what I had learned on YouTube. I knew I’d be a pro.
Like Hansel and Gretel, the elk in the area left trails and trails of moist offerings for us to follow. Mike found them all, and I did my best not to complain when one trail led to another, and another, even though I suspected we were being led on a wild poo chase.
We spent one thirteen-hour day the first weekend of the season, and although I often found myself either sweating bullets or shivering in my boots, I frequently felt just right. Those moments steeled me for subsequent excursions.
We fell into a speechless rhythm. I stopped whenever he stopped, about every eight steps. We did this for hours, and by early afternoon, even my eye muscles ached from the constant, stealthy surveillance.
Countless times I watched Mike stop, pick up a twig and stick it into
a pile of elk poop. I soon learned that the shiny ones were the freshest. There was no doubt in my mind that elk had been there before us.
“Does this look familiar?” he asked me later in the day, quizzing me to test my orientation proficiency. I lied and said yes, though the poo piles were all starting to smell the same to me. I did notice a familiar
twig sticking out of one pile and realized we had made a huge circle.
In addition to coordinating our movement, we also coordinated our pee breaks. Peeing in the woods is the best. After the squat, the sweet release, a clench or two and a wiggle-waggle, I’m ready for the next expanse of forest.
Frequently, busy squirrels chattered at us to move along, though we had no interest in their tiny little nuts. We did our best to be as stealthy as our prey, but Mike had a creaky boot that I’m certain alerted the nut gatherers. Then, of course, the blast of an occasional fart would stop us both in our tracks. We would look at one another in mock surprise and mouth the word, “bugling?” It was always funny, and we found ourselves suppressing juvenile giggles every time it happened.
At one point as we were creeping through a particularly mucky draw, our boots pulling—“Shhgluck!”—from the mud, I had flashbacks to my Army reconnaissance training.
“Feels like we’re in Nam,” I whispered to Mike. He just rolled his eyes.
At one point that long day as we climbed up from yet another draw, we were treated by the flash of two glorious elk cows about 30 yards away. Fortunately for them, they saw us before we recognized them, and before Mike could raise his rifle, they disappeared even faster than they had appeared, and with barely a sound.
Mike continued to zigzag us through the forest in a way I never could. I’ll admit it…I don’t know the first thing about using a GPS in the forest, and would never attempt an adventure like this without him.
Later in the afternoon I began to get cranky and we stopped for a long break. Between hours of trudging in stiff boots and snacks of nothing but raisins and nuts, both my plantar fasciitis and my TMJ flared up. I considered myself lucky never to have had IBS. Because I have celiac, however, the smell of the non-gluten-free beef jerky Mike was eating made my mouth water.
“Let’s go up the trail a bit and find a good vantage point,” he said after we finished our snack. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” he continued, trying to keep up my spirits. I could taste the jerky lingering in his whisper, and started to drool a little.
“You could get lucky right here,” I whispered back, a little more than half-joking.
“Yeah, and right as we’re doing it, a whole herd would walk by,” Mike said quietly, and it was all we could do to muffle our giggles. He sure did want to score an elk that day. I settled for a jerky-kiss, and we continued moving until the sun went down on that long day.
“Let’s head back now,” he said, disappointed, though not defeated. I had no idea where “back” was, but continued to follow my guy, still in stealth mode, into the darkness, just as we had started the day.
One evening later in the week while standing motionless, I noticed a clearing on the forest floor outlined by fallen trees. The sight transported me to the woods behind my childhood home where my best friend, sister and I would set up pretend rooms with branches and stones. The woods were really only a few undeveloped lots, but to us, the wilderness seemed immense. We loved to bounce on a tree bent low to the ground, but never ventured too far beyond it because of the monster we were told lived there.
An enormous crow circling above us brought me back to the present. He seemed to love the sound of his own voice, and Mike and I shook our heads at the noisy ruckus. Growing chilly yet not moving at all lest we herald our presence, I realized about the only noiseless thing I could do was kegel exercises. Since those made me shiver, though, I decided to try balancing on one foot, being careful not to crunch twigs when I switched between the two.
Despite only one other sighting of elk late one evening after legal hunting hours, we continued to hike with hope each time we went back out to hunt. Huddled against a stone-cold boulder during our last night out, our stomachs growling and shivers setting in deep, we both still thought we might get lucky on our last descent from the forest. Alas, we were mistaken.
“I think we’re elkless,” Mike said near the end of that last day in the wild.
“It was an awesome week,” I whispered. And it was true. We hadn’t had so much quiet time together in years. When we were out there, we had no TV, no politics, no talk of Ebola. No elk? No problem. Much hunting happened, though at the end of the week, the only kill was a pesky gnat I successfully snatched from its orbit around my drippy nose one afternoon.
“And don’t forget,” I continued, “my hunting season starts next weekend!”
After spending days trudging through the woods with my husband on our first ever hunting expedition, I concluded that trying to find an elk in a jillion acres of national forest is even harder than trying to find a pair of reading glasses in your house. You know there are lots of them around, but they’re never where someone claims to have spotted them recently.
We may have ended the week elkless, but the experience brought me closer to the man who grew up raised by wolves in the wilderness of northern California—a story I tell everyone I meet about him. But that’s a story for another day.