The weekend started out in an ignominious fashion, when I got our car stuck Friday afternoon out at my favorite backwoods target range. Front wheel drive doesn’t do you much good on ice if you back into a downhill pullout. I spent an hour in the dark chipping at the ice with a entrenching tool and stuffing pine branches under the front wheels to not avail, and hitched a ride home with Gary, who works for the forest service and had been out hunting. The next morning we avoided a 200 dollar tow when Lauren brought Nate and his chains, which when stuffed under the wheels and combined with three of us pushing got the job done.
My elk plans were cut short, and then even shorter when the trailhead I had hoped to access was too snowbound for my now chastened driving habits. I miss having a 4×4.
I saw plenty of tracks hiking into an uncharted area, and pitched camp under the lodgepoles by a frozen bog. It was forecast was for negative 5 that night.
The Big Sibling made mincemeat of the temps. Being too hot in your tent when it’s single digits outside is pretty awesome. Once I had a good bed of coals I was able to stuff in a few 3″ pieces ever twenty minutes and enjoy a very pleasant, moderated temperature well into the long night.
I had camped near a little spring on purpose; I hadn’t brought fuel for snow melting. Every time I went to fetch water, I spooked the trout hanging out in the swallow, warm inlet.
Cold feet warmed once I got moving up the ridge. Slow, steady work up the snow-cloaked deadfall kept sweat to a minimum, and I tried to look up and around a lot, as the abundant fresh tracks suggested plenty of elk and deer lived somewhere along the steep sides. Once on top I crept along, peering down the sides, trying not to skyline myself. At the intersection of three eroded logging roads I backtracked to check over the edge, and when I turned back around there he was. An elk! No, just the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in person. 200 yards away, quartering towards me, staring at me. I brought up my binoculars, slowly, and stared at something which looked very much like this. I thought about shooting him and counting it as an elk. The deer was close enough to it, but I just couldn’t live with that. I had a couple solid minutes to study and contemplate until the deer walked off the side and disappeared into the timber.
I’m not a trophy hunter, but it’s hard to not dwell on the fact that I might not see a deer like that for another couple decades, if ever. Deer themselves, to say nothing of elk, are rare enough when you’re looking for them. The big one is a quasi-mythical creature, and not an opportunity to be taken lightly.
Five days left in the season.