When you’re blessed with a pile of guts you don’t simply walk by it. You kneel down and thank the gods above for the gift of a reeking, globulous mass. Let that pile turn in the sun for a few days, so much so that it would knock a buzzard off a shit wagon, well then you got liquid gold.
Two days previous I saw this gift unwrapped for me while glassing elk across a deep valley.
“I got one,” said Joe.
I followed the angle of his glass to a steep avalanche shoot about two thirds of the way up the mountain. Of course it’s two thirds of the way up the mountain, everything is always two thirds of the way up the mountain…
“He’s either semi-retarded or he’s trying to give himself a head rush,” I replied as I spotted him.
“Yea, I’ve never seen an elk bed with his head downhill like that,” came Joe’s response.
We waited to see what would unfold. Would he move? Was there something wrong with him?
After a few minutes we realize that there was certainly something wrong with him. He was dead.
Two archers appeared from behind a tree and with one raising a bow to the air in celebration, it was obvious that the animal was sleeping the long sleep.
“That sucks. We were just hunting there yesterday,” came the disappointment from Joe’s mouth.
“Doesn’t suck for me. I’ve got a bear tag in my pocket. That elk is going to turn into an all you can eat buffet in about two days,” I shot back to him.
Standing above the almost picked clean carcass two days later I realized that the bait for the trap was perfect, however the geography wasn’t.
The damn avalanche shoot is a wind tunnel.
The bears had been there, but no matter the angle of my approach there was just no way of getting the wind right. The cliffed out edges of the steep shoot was perfect for cover. I could have been doing back-flips and riding a unicycle and they wouldn’t have seen me approaching.
But that damn wind. No matter how I approached they always slipped away a few seconds before I peered over the edge.
“Same thing as yesterday man. By the looks of it you were all but measuring out a room in your house for that bear skin rug,” Joe commented over another gruel like dinner of Mountain House. “You were all but there before they split.”
I could tell Joe was getting a fair bit of amusement of my early morning trudges up the side of Mt. Everest. I’d glass back at him a mile or so out sipping coffee and occasionally looking through the spotting scope at the spectacle unfolding.
I started to feel that tag in my pocket weighing me down like the albatross. We were here to hunt elk, but when presented an opportunity like this you don’t just walk by.
“Don’t even look to see if they’re there tomorrow. Just go. They’ve been there the last few days religiously. Just get up there well before sunrise and most importantly before the wind starts to swirl,” comes his advice.
Easily said when you’re the guy sitting behind the glass. Spending a third morning up that death slide wasn’t as appealing to the guy with the boots on the ground.
“Suck it up buttercup. Isn’t this what you train for? Isn’t this what makes you an ‘athlete’?” he laughs, knowing what I’m hesitant about.
Ugh. Everyone’s an ‘athlete’ these days. I wonder if chess players have picked up that moniker as well or are us hunters the last to grasp onto that word.
The morning doesn’t come easy. Six days into the hunt and my shoulders and hip are telling me to throw in the towel and head home to a comfortable bed.
What’s on the menu for breakfast this morning? Oatmeal and protein powder? Freakin sweet! I was hoping to have that again. Everything’s coming up Fred.
Stop whining. This is voluntary you big baby. Nobody said you had to leave your warm home stuffed with every type of food imaginable to come out here and live with the squirrels.
I recognized this was self induced suffering, thus falls out of the realm of complaining.
Damn you logic.
I head out into the abyss. My headlamp creates a forty yard bubble of awareness, other than that an all out animal orgy could be taking place beyond it and I wouldn’t have the slightest clue.
I cross the valley floor, soaking my boots and pants up to my knees in the tall, wet grass. I know a thousand vertical feet above me are two bears scraping whatever remnants of meat are left on the elk hide.
There’s not much left of that thing, this will be your last chance to use that gut pile before they wander off to steal their next meal.
My bow is tossed up on my shoulders as I shut my brain down to what’s to come.
I don’t know much in life besides that one foot goes in front of the other. The rest will sort itself out.
The wind stays in my face as the mountain grade gets exponentially steeper. I click off my headlamp and let the sliver of moon help lead the way.
By now I know the route well. I’m one avy shoot over from where two bears of stuffing their faces with the guts of what was a six hundred pound animal.
And you want to sit there and shoot them with a pointy stick? How hasn’t natural selection take you out already?
I look back a mile or so across the valley floor to see Joe’s headlamp moving about like a firefly.
Looks like he’s setting up for the show.
The fire of his Jetboil pierces the dark. Stadium seating for the drama/ tragedy that’s about to unfold.
I dig into the climb and let it sear my legs for a bit longer as I crosscut the mountain. The rock outcropping that was my destination glows white from the pre-dawn light.
Young aspen trees that haven’t developed the years of wisdom to know any better poked through the fractured rock. They make perfect handles to help fight gravity up the last bit of ungodly steep angle.
My pack slides to the ground and an arrow comes out of the quiver.
Audience watching from a spotting scope. Check.
Enough daylight to see what I’m shooting at? Well not quite.
I periscope my head over the edge of the cliff. There’s a perfect view of the avalanche shoot and all it contains. The problem is it’s still a bit too early to tell if there’s anything wandering about.
I hunker down and pull on the hood of my jacket. The early morning cool is having its last bit of fun with me before the sun chases it away.
I’ve never shot a bear before, they’ve never been high priority for me. But there’s something about a bear skin rug in front of the fireplace and some exotic meat in the freezer that’s pulled my attention away from the rutting elk.
He’s not laying in front of your fireplace yet buddy. Get your head in the game.
The sun starts to rouse from its slumber. I peek back over at where my fading memory of the elk carcass laid.
Brown. That’s a good sign.
My mind reacts and dumps an extra helping of adrenaline in my system. I can feel it wash its way through my core and into my extremities. Any other time it would be a welcome change to my aching body, but not when I need to count on my limbs to act as directed. Adrenaline has a funny way of taking countless hours of practice and flushing it down the toilet.
Breathe. You know that’s the only way to fight this, so do it.
My nerves settle as much as they’re going to as I clip on my release. On last check through the rangefinder. Thirty-five yards.
Even in my adrenaline-drunken state that should be no problem.
I stay crouched and pull my binos up to see exactly what he is doing. And by the looks of it he’s splayed out on the carcass.
So tired from gorging yourself that you couldn’t even walk to bed?
I try to make out his vitals through my glass. After spending close to fifteen minutes staring at him, my eyes start to pull the contrast out of his contoured lines.
Head. Body. And legs tucked underneath. Not the most common sleeping position, but that seems to be the theme of the animals around here.
I check over to where Joe is watching while I still have the glass to my face and I can see he is now fully emerged in the soap opera that’s unfolding. Leaning forward, eyes pressed to the glass and pointed straight at me.
I stand and draw at the same time.
Level your bubble. Thirty-five pin gap right on the crease. Pull through your shot.
The arrow arcs slightly and begins its spiral. I peek to the side of my riser, though I know that I shouldn’t.
The dull thud of a hit that only comes from an arrow piercing hide.
I watch for the explosion of a creature woken from sleep by the reaper asking for his last wish.
He must not have any because he lays deadly still.
Spine shot? You should have at least seen a little movement.
My binos go back up in attempts to solve the mystery, but nothing changes.
I whip the binos towards Joe, hoping to see if he has any insight on what just happened. He’s pumping his arms in the air, punching at the gods above.
Alright then. I guess he’s dead.
I gather my gear and slowly walk towards the pile of brown. The sun peaks its head out from towering mountains that has been keeping it at bay as long as it could. As I get closer something doesn’t feel right.
I nock and arrow, not understanding why my body went on high alert.
My previously launched arrow looks like a javelin sticking out of a corpse at a forty five degree angle. It’s not moving which I take to be a good sign.
I move around a small pine brave enough to call an avalanche shoot its home in attempt to get a better view of my would be rug.
“Oh wow. Oh man. You’ve really outdone yourself this time,” I say to myself as an embarrassed smile creeps over my face.
I walk over and pull my arrow out of what should have been a bear. Instead its the carcass of a three day old rotted elk.
I look around sheepishly as if I’m expecting someone to be watching me eight miles deep into the backcountry.
Shit. Joe. A witness.
I hurriedly put my binoculars to my face. He’s packed up by now and making his way down the opposing mountain. Undoubtedly he’s rushing his way over to take a look at my trophy and help with the aftermath.
I scramble for ideas on how not to look like the fool that I am.
I never killed a man and I probably shouldn’t start now. But I wonder if he takes bribes.
I pull my arrow, sling my bow on my shoulders and make my way down the mountain and into the valley. My brain is running on overdrive and trying to figure the perfect lie that won’t get me caught.
I see Joe making his way towards me in a trot.
“Dude! I saw you at full draw! It was perfect. I saw everything go down,” he exclaims in between short pauses to suck in air.
Well not everything.
“Yea,” was all I could manage.
“Well?! How big is he? You must have hit him perfect, I didn’t see him move an inch!” comes the excited comments.
“Oh yea, he didn’t even blink an eye. The arrow went exactly where I aimed,” I say trying to buy time for the feeble part of my brain that comes up with lies to kick in.
“What’s the deal man? You don’t seem to excited?” he says. By now he knows something is up.
“Well. It wasn’t an bear that I shot. But an elk.”
“What?! I didn’t see an elk?” comes his reply. He’s thoroughly confused.
“That’s because there wasn’t one. Or rather it was a dead one. Remember that carcass I was sitting over?” I say sheepishly.
A laughter starts deep within him. Not just quick “Ha!” but one that starts from the marrow of your bones in your feet and works its way through the skeletal system and is vomited out of your mouth.
I sit there and take the well deserved abuse.
If only I were a good liar.
// Fred Bohm