Sunday, March 1, 2009

This One Isn't About Fish

I am five minutes into hiking up the side of a cedar tree and sage brush covered hill when I begin to wonder what the fuss is about. I'm already breathing hard as I slowly lift one giant mud covered boot in front of the next in my futile attempt to keep up with Seth who is several yards ahead of me already. "I really should be concentrating more on my cardio workouts," I think as I trudge up the embankment, trying hard not to slip and fall into the mushy snow saturated earth.

There's no way I'm ever going to be a hunter at this rate. I'm only carrying a small day pack filled with a couple liters of water, a wind breaker and basic survival supplies and I'm already getting winded. Would I even be able to move if I had to carry a rifle or bow and actual supplies like food? What if I actually shot something? I couldn't carry the meat down on my back, I can barely move these stubby legs!

The good news was that Seth and I weren't out on an actual hunt. Well, not the kind that requires a weapon anyway. We had talked about going out to hunt for shed antlers and this morning after eating our breakfast burritos, Seth got a crazy look in his eye. "Hey," he said with a mischievous grin on his face, "you want to go down to Huntington Canyon to look for antlers?"

Wow! We were actually going to do it! I skipped my daily shower and got ready as fast as I could. We packed up some drinks and stopped to get some sandwiches for the cooler on our way down. We drove past the giant windmills at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, past the fishermen along Thistle Creek, past the wind sailors and sledders at the top of Skyline Drive and came down into Huntington Canyon by the power plant.

It was a beautiful day, around 50 degrees, so all we had on were our thermals, jeans and hoodies. After the first hundred yards or so I was beginning to sweat and thought about taking off my sweatshirt. My camouflage baseball hat was blocking my view and that combined with the heat, I was starting feel agitated. "Just relax and have fun," I thought, "you don't need to keep up with Seth, just enjoy the scenery. Go slow and keep your eyes open, who knows, maybe you'll actually find something."

We climbed to the top of the hill and followed a barbed wire fence for a few yards. The fence was down at the point where we needed to drop into the draw on the other side of the hill, so we effortlessly stepped over it and kept going. Now that we were going downhill in the shadows of the mountain, I began to cool off and really open my eyes. I was no longer walking directly behind Seth, following the footprints that he left. I was making my own trail in an effort to cover more area and get a new view of potential hiding places for sheds.

The ground was littered with cedar branches and twigs, all of them looking like antlers. I would take a couple steps, scan the area and repeat. I was falling farther and farther behind Seth who would periodically give a small bird-like whistle so I knew where he was. I'd catch up to him and the cycle would start over again.

Seth mentioned earlier when we stopped at this place that he'd been hiking around in the same area once before and had seen a herd of about 200 elk. Up to this point I had never really seen an elk in the wild. I've seen hundreds of deer, antelope, jack rabbits, and even a tarantula, but no elk.

About an hour or so into our hike, Seth gave a faint whistle and motioned to me to come quickly, but quietly over to where he was standing. I made my way over to him and he pointed towards the rolling hills in front of us. "You see that elk?" he whispered, "it's laying down right out there on that hill." I looked and couldn't see anything. He handed me his binoculars and I scanned the hillside. There straight across from us about 250 yards away, was a cow elk. Not just one, but a couple. We slowly inched our way over to a large boulder where we would be more hidden and have a better view. I scanned the hillside again and this time counted at least 10 elk. As we sat there and watched, more elk came into view. Most of them were grazing and making their way towards another draw that would lead down into a field full of grass. There were at least 40-50 elk in the herd, including two young bulls with small spikes. We were upwind from them and had several trees and boulders to hide in and just observe these beautiful animals. All those eyes and ears and not one of them knew we were there.

After a while we got curious as to how close we could get before they saw us. We started walking straight down the hill towards them, being as quiet as we could. When we were about 100 yards away, one of the little spike bulls saw us and let out a small warning cry. All the cows on the hill looked at us and just stood there. The whole herd just stood there and watched. We slowly came a bit closer and they decided they didn't want to stick around. The lead cow took off down the hill and the others followed behind her. It was an amazing thing to see.

After the herd left, we decided we might as well go scan the area they were in for antlers. We never did find anything, but just being able to get that close to them in the wild made it all worth it. I've always heard hunters say that getting up close to wild animals is one of the best things about hunting and it doesn't matter so much if they actually get to make a kill. Up until today I thought that was something the bad hunters said to make themselves feel better. But now I see what they mean. It was such a rush and such a great moment to just be there and witness what we saw. Anything more than that would just be gravy. Gravy on top of gravy.

If being a hunter means I get to experience what I did today on a somewhat regular basis, I'm in. Nature like that won't just walk up and sit in your lap. You have to work for it. You have to plan for it. You have to want it.


It's Me said...

Awesome writing. I am impressed. Great job! Sounds like a really cool experience!