Bulls in the Mist
The spray flew up from my front tires, drenching my windshield, and the thought struck me; “I haven’t driven through a puddle in months! “
My veteran bow hunters had started the season strong, turning down shots at younger deer in hopes of tagging one of several mature bucks that had been out in full view that first evening. All creatures enjoyed the return of the much-needed rain including the normally nocturnal older deer.
A shot taken by a new archer flew harmlessly over the back of a mid-150’s whitetail that would have ruined her for life. Good thing she missed. A veteran hunter mentioned that it was the first time since the Hemorrhagic outbreak killed so many deer that we were seeing multiple trophy animals on a single hunt. That it felt like the, “Old glory days.”
We were all in high spirits until the rain decided to stay.
For the next three days, when it wasn’t raining, there was a thick mist that still required the windshield wipers to cut tracks through the layers of moisture. I looked at nearly two inches collected in a bucket and silently repeated the same lines shared all weekend, “We should enjoy it while we can.”
Hadn’t we just been praying for a cloud burst at Mass.
At first, the moisture had been a blessing that covered out scent and allowed deer to pass directly under our stands without detecting hunters who were only a few feet above. By the third day, clothing that had never had a chance to fully dry began to faintly give off the aroma of wet dog. The older does started to bust us. The sound of stamping feet and blowing deer began to fill the creek bottom.
While stationary deer hunters suffered, archery elk hunters were loving every minute. Facebook posts of hunters posing by record-setting bulls began to fill my screen. Nothing makes a tired bull in rut sing louder than a misty day and a full wallow. Both of which have been in short supply.
A bull without a wallow is a like a body builder wearing a down coat on a summer beach. Imagine a man going on a hot date forced to wear clothes set out by his mother; uncomfortable and stifled.
My favorite rainy-day memory of youthful elk hunting happened along the border near the headwaters of Sand Creek.
My nephew had the tag and we climbed ridgelines up through the light rain and into the mist. I did the calling while Kevin set up in forward positions that would hopefully allow me to call the bulls into his range.
Sound carries much better through the fog and feels amplified. My own screaming bugles set our teeth on edge. The returned calls we heard were from a Harem master in full-battle mode. A band of satellite bulls had pushed him off his wallow and forced his cows out onto a point with the only escape; a desperate dive off the cliff face.
The first three bulls to come to our challenges were young animals that raced by barely allowing themselves more than a glance in our direction. Acting like teenage boys walking by an open window and not wanting to get caught looking in.
Bull number four stood chest on and defied us to pass as if he was the guardian of the herd instead of a cow thief himself. My nephew never even lifted his bow.
There was a show going on that at first only he could see. A battle was taking place that was leveling the forest like a John Wayne bar fight where every chair and table is destroyed.
Man uses a rototiller to open the soil so that it might accept the seeds of a new generation of essential plants and future timber. But the forest uses battling bull elk to scratch its back and break the sod. Sod and everything else in their path that doesn’t have the ability to get out of the way.
We had come to kill a bull elk. Seven came within range during that half-hour battle. But some of life’s adventures impress with their ferocity, the like of which you might never see again. In awe, we merely watched.
The battle around that puddle of a wallow on Sand Creek was one of those moments. We were too young to know how rare that sight would be. How decades would pass before the weather would again allow tired bulls the surge in energy required to stage such fights. Or that our own legs would betray us and leave us evermore at the valley floor wishing to be spectators at ringside.
While archery elk is winding down, rifle elk and archery deer have just begun.
May the rains and mist keep coming.