Hunting Invisible Elk
From no hunting seasons to many, in the blink of a sportsman’s eye.
It has taken me five months to set up my new home archery range. The longest I’ve been without one in my life. There were always more pressing interests in finishing the new house and so many details to complete between starting landscaping projects and making hay.
I have some smaller round bales in the five-hundred-pound range. They are light enough to flip off the stack by hand into the back of a truck bed. The arrows don’t penetrate through them and I can shoot back and forth across the draw without having to retrace my steps after staging several targets on either side. It’s a late start to rehoning my shot placement, but my pins seem to still hold true from my last hunt. I have a good friend with an archery antelope tag and his enthusiasm has been infectious.
Daughter Maggie has a prairie elk tag. At four in the morning on Monday the herd was talking loud enough to draw me out of bed and out on the porch with a diaphram call. Several of the calves were disturbed by the sudden darkness as the full moon set and I was able to entice them up the drive, close enough to hear their hooves advancing in the gravel. A senior cow called them back just before I had to hide in my pajamas.
Maggie and Son-in-law, Nate picked up the phone and made a quick trip out from Whitewood. It was the fourth day of the season and the elk normally leave the country once they have been shot at. It is best to take advantage of any early opportunity. But the herd was traveling. By the time shooting light had arrived through the smoke-delayed dawn, they had covered another mile and were nearing the Wyoming border.
Maggie stopped in to have a cup of coffee with her mom before heading home to get ready for work. But Nate stayed and volunteered to help me tune up a dozen archery tree stands prior to the start of deer season which starts in less than three weeks. As we drove south, he called off every dove sighting on powerline and fence wire, reminding me that wing-shooters were chasing them as well as early goose.
The drought has cattle chasing down every blade of grass and the cows had been tough on my stands. Several had to be rescued and reassembled. An angus bull leaning heavily and scratching on a ladder stand can do a lot of damage.
One we took down and carried back to the truck. I had a place in mind for it back home.
There is a grandmother pine set apart from all the rest on the edge of the most southern hay field. A tree that grows on its own tends to bush out instead of climbing up. Without other trees to help fight the wind, solitary pines tend to be stout and thick. This one’s trunk might be eight feet around with a jungle of tangled branches and dead wood still clinging on. How many hundreds of years has she stood there alone.
I started thinning branches for a stand as the primary trail into the field passed within range. Seven respectable whitetail bucks had been using the trail when they all were all still in velvet. But now that they are hard-horned, they each were staking out their own ground.
I used a pole saw, loppers, and a bow saw to open a window in the canopy. There needed to be windows to shoot through yet enough cover to hide my movements. I have a female client from Denver coming out to hunt with family. The stand is designed for two so that I might give advice. Her brother-in-law and sister have been out several times and been successful. She has been on several hunts in her home state and has yet to draw her bow.
The thought of introducing a new hunter to our big game success story makes me pay attention to small details. A task that should have taken an hour at most goes from afternoon till early evening.
Suddenly it feels just right.
I lean back in a pocket of pine boughs as the wind makes music in the thick canopy rising another forty feet above me. I’m hidden in the shadows and more at peace than I have felt in months. Long-dead branches rubbing together mimic the call of elk calves so closely that I look down in the thickets below for stragglers left by that morning’s herd.
Nature’s windchimes make me smile at the thought of future hunters as they too look about for invisible elk. Soon I’ll return with my bow and a good book to listen again. To see if the music changes with a light snow and hopefully in the spring, heavy rain.