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The new snow changed my view of this entire property. Everything looked so peaceful and serene, and the bright yellow leaves that had yet to fall from the aspens offered an amazing contrast to the new white landscape. The trees were quiet, the air was still and I managed to find some intermittent peace in the beauty around me until I realized again that I was in the sticks by myself and miles away from anyone. Below, the rocks presented a whole different world. The trees were not nearly as dense, offering a much more open environment, better visibility and unobstructed shooting lanes. I was all set. All I needed now were the animals. I knew they were around me. I faintly heard an animal slide on some rock well behind me, and heard another grunt somewhere off to my right. In fact, it was here that I first heard an elk bugle, and it was like nothing I had ever heard before. It sounded like a keyboard replicating a synthesized elephant trumpeting through a faulty set of bagpipes during a pelvic examination. For someone who’s never heard it, it is marginally comical, seemingly unnatural and spooky beyond explanation. It gave me the shivers. The snow began to fall again and I fell into a trance of sorts, contemplating life and trying to figure out what in blazing hell I was doing in the woods again versus sitting on a beach being catered to as if I were important. I remember having struggled with this very thing the previous season quite a lot. I had thought about it less this season, but I was still thinking it on occasion – mostly the times where I found myself bored, cold and worried about being disemboweled by carnivorous fauna. I still longed for the warmth of the sun, the sand between my toes and the gentle feel of a colorful drink adorned with a slice of fruit at my fingertips, but I also was beginning to wonder if in all the fun and adventure I was having, was I learning something about myself I that had never considered? Was I becoming an outdoorsman – or at the very least someone who liked the outdoors? It was a perplexing thought, and I became very introspective in those quiet moments on the rock. I experienced an inner peace in those couple hours I had never felt at any other point in my life, and found it very odd that I was there waiting for an opportunity to shoot something and kill it. The morning was becoming a very thought-provoking exercise in the very definition of who I was. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or disappointed in what I was discovering about myself that day. While it wasn’t the plan I had walked into the woods with, I set my rifle down and looked into the vast reaches of the forest, both across the elevation I was on and through the clearing beneath me, and watched not for the animals, but for the sheer beauty and grace that the landscape offered, complete with the bars of light breaking through the canopy above and illuminating patches of the woods as if to highlight that specific place and its isolation. It was then that the silence was transformed into a symphony of the sounds of life. I heard water dripping onto rocks below, the branches clicking together, woodpeckers trying to knock their fillings loose and a bird of prey crying out in the skies above. It was an incredible thing to witness and nearly took my breath away as I sat in true wonder of it all. I recognized it as a breakthrough; one that represents an evolution into the world of a hunter and what it’s like to be able to appreciate the hunt for everything that it is and not just the bloodshed. It was here that I knew my hunt for the morning had ended. It was obvious to me that I would not get anything more profound out of this morning even if, at that very moment, a world-class mule deer presented himself and surrendered to one of my rounds. I stood up feeling content and somehow enriched, put the rifle strap over my shoulder and walked out the way I had entered. I followed my footprints, only slightly less visible now due to the flurries, and made my way back out to the road. Our host was already waiting there and, as I got into the Suburban, he asked me how the hunt was. I said, “I’m really not sure how to answer that, Jon. Walking in, I didn’t see much other than one buck and a set of lion tracks. Once I got to my spot, I saw nothing. But it was somehow a thrilling hunt that I will remember for the rest of my life.” I’m certain he knew exactly what I was talking about, although I wasn’t entirely sure that I did.
So now I had to worry about ethics, sportsmanship and survival… without any help… for 3 hours! I was in so over my head it was scary… literally. So off I went knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to find my way back and accepting the likelihood that I would be spending the night out there in very close proximity to the Bear Cage, or whatever the hell it was, where people get lost regularly and are often chased and then consumed by predatory monsters lurking in the Northern Utah version of the Bermuda Triangle. My imagination was getting the best of me as I walked down the trail. I was sweating though I wasn’t sure whether it was because I was hot or terrified and all I could think about was why I had signed up for this nonsense when I could have been home right now in St. Louis, Missouri, in weather just as cold as this was, but with the option of staying inside and watching TV shows about people getting lost in the woods and eaten by God-knows-what rather than actually being one of those morons in real life. I watched that damned fence for 2 hours and didn’t see one living organism. To make matters worse, the silence was deafening until I really started listening at which time every single noise I did hear fed my paranoia to the point that I was driving myself (already a bit unstable) completely bananas. I tried to just remember to breathe and calmly think about what I was going to do to Jon if I made it out of there alive. I was considering pulling his toenails off one by one with pliers, pouring syrup on his back and pushing him onto an ant hill or possibly forcing him to drink from our colleague’s spit cup. The options were endless and highly entertaining. With that I noticed movement in the tree next to me. I calmly looked up and saw a red squirrel darting through the intertwined branches above me. I watched him for a strong 5 minutes, as his antics were quite amusing. When I finally looked back down at the Alley of Stillness and Boredom, there was something distinctly different about the view. A short way down the slope at about 40 yards was a mule deer peering out from the woods on the in-play side of the fence. I could only see his face and limited portions of his rack as he was still in the trees. My heart started pounding and I slowly raised my rifle and looked through the scope. It was a buck, all right, but I couldn’t yet see how mature he was or even get a good angle for an acceptable kill shot. I waited patiently for a time, and then as if he’d played this game before, he darted from the cover of the trees, jumped the fence and then stopped and quartered towards me as if to say, “I know you can’t shoot me over here.” He stood there patiently staring at me for a moment as though he was contemplating giving me the middle hoof. And he was a big guy too. He looked to be a mature eight-point with some serious mass and tall brow tines. Clearly he didn’t get that old by being careless. He then calmly strutted into the woods on the neighboring property, knowing full well that there was nothing I could do about it. That was the end of that.
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