Lone Elk Hunter - Part 1

         Hunting alone can be a good experience and I like it sometimes, but it is also sort of dangerous in that if you have trouble or get hurt--you’re on your own.  I like the solitude and no talk, a guy can think and ponder about things for as long as he wants and you can go at any pace you desire and nobody is bothered by it, and I like to sit still, sometimes for hours and glass and sort of let the game and the forest go at their own pace instead of forcing things.  It’s very interesting what you see and learn if you are a quiet and a still observer.  On the other side of the coin I like the company of people I know and trust--it’s usually a lot more fun if things get exciting, you share the experience and take joy in other’s adventures too. 

            One winter several years back I found myself without any elk meat for my family, and the season was closing.  I wasn’t in the mood to go alone--but I couldn’t find anybody who could go or wanted to go.  It was the first week of December, and only a few units were still open, the only one around home was nearly 80 miles north up in Buffalo Valley north east of Jackson Hole.

            I decided I would try, we needed a good elk for the freezer, to get us through the winter.  I told Irene I wanted to go.  She was leery of it, didn’t like me being all alone, especially in subzero weather.  I told her that I would be careful, and most likely do mostly road hunting anyway, my hip had arthritis in it from a horse wreck years before on the Jackknife Roundup, so I couldn’t hike long distances anyway.  I told her where I would be in case she had to send somebody to search for me if I didn’t return by Saturday night late, I would make sure I had matches, first aid stuff and flashlight in case I had to spend a night in the woods and extra food too.  She reluctantly said OK, I hugged and kissed her goodbye, and hugged and kissed the kids, we had a prayer- and I was heading north in my old trusty silver pickup with the steel pipe bumper I bought from a guy in Archer, Idaho.

            By the time I got to the Buffalo River, and the road up Buffalo Valley, it was almost sundown, a perfect time to look for elk that were migrating out of Yellowstone toward the winder feed grounds at Jackson Hole. I found one cow elk and got a running shot at her before she disappeared over the ridge.

            I grabbed my day pack with all my gear, zipped up my coat and headed up the slope to the spot I’d seen her, about 200 yards up.  When I got there, I realized she had been with four or five more head and she was the tail end.  I couldn’t tell which tracks were hers.  I just wanted to find blood.  No blood.  I searched for about five minutes.  Nothing- no hair either no sign of a hit.  I finally had to admit I’d missed, although I didn’t entirely believe it.  The sun was down now, and the mercury was dropping fast.  In 30 minutes or less it would be dark.

            I started back down the hill reluctantly, thinking well I’d better get settled for the night before it’s too dark to see. About halfway back to the truck I stopped.  I just stood there thinking. I should have made a hit. The angle was less than good but those crosshairs had elk in them when I pulled the trigger. I think I’ve got to give it one last effort, I just don’t feel satisfied that I really missed. I went back up the slope and zig-zagged back and forth checking all those tracks. Nothing. Something wouldn’t let me quit. I crossed over the top of the ridge, following the tracks. On the other side there was tall sage. Very tall sage, as tall as I was. I followed the tracks through the sage looking very closely for any sign at all of a hit. Nothing. Price, you’ve given it a dang good effort, you need to get out of here and get set for the night. Something wouldn’t let me leave. I kept looking, almost against hope. I swear those crosshairs were full of elk, I should have made a hit somewhere! I kept looking. Nothing.

            I was just about to quit no matter how I felt. Enough is enough. As I looked down in the snow and tracks I could see a bunch of those little brown seeds scattered in the snow, which had fallen off the sage as the elk had brushed up against them while passing through on their way up too heavily timbered draw ahead.

            One of those seeds looked out of place. Twice as big as the rest. Odd?  By habit I reached down to pit it up and look at it to see why that see was so big.  I took my glove off, and got it between my thumbs and finger. It felt too hard, no give at all as I pinched it. Then suddenly I couldn’t feel it at all. I pinched harder but still couldn’t feel it. Then my tracker instinct took over. I knew what it was before I opened my fingers to look. Sure enough, blood. A frozen drop of blood. One single little frozen drop, melted from the heat of my thumb and finger and wet blood covered the tips of my finger and thumb. 

To be continued.... 

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