When asked what hunting means to me;

This Is Hunting

A high mountain glade in early fall, the sun dappled aspens quivering in a breeze so slight it’s a memory. A small rain of yellow leaves falling to the sun browned grass. Perfume of nature cast in a myriad of pleasant scents, never overwhelming. The flicker of a wing, the croak of a raven. A rustle of brush and the nose of a mouse considering the wisdom of a dash across the field.

This Is Hunting.

Full moon so bright it seems the mid of a cloudy day, the world a thousand shades of silver and black. Morning a hope, midnight a distant memory. My back firmly planted against a hundred year old PiƱon, his branches shielding me from the orb above. Frost, forming on blade and needle, bringing the smell of life more vibrantly than an hour earlier, less so than will be with the coming dawn. Five bull elk, ethereal in the distance, bellowing their defiance to each other in great rolling screams and seeming endless grunts. Two of these fur covered knights locking horns in an age-old test of strength and skill, the clack of antler on antler like the crack of a bat. The snapping of a branch behind me followed by a waft of sweet-bitter musk announcing a sixth player. One that will forever remain a ghost. They all bleed away with the coming of the sun, gone as if they’d never been.

This Is Hunting.

Red sky at morning. Clouds burning like the embers of a campfire moving swiftly to silver with the coming day. Sagebrush, purple and so fragrant you can taste it. Sheep in the distance coming to life, rising like wooly mushrooms in a hundred places. Nervous and prancing with coyotes carefully circling, watching for the unwary. Perhaps the sheep count to see if any of their flock was lost in the night. And a flash of white farther out on the rolling plain. An antelope buck raising his flank hair. Whether to salute the morning or to let me know I’ve been seen is unknown. I blink and he’s gone.

This Is Hunting.

Silence except for the sigh and hiss. Pine trees covered with a cake-like icing. Four inches of new snow, dim white in the cloudy day. Odd is the white covering because there are no shadows. Ozone the smell. The smell of absolute clean. Looking to the sky it’s as if the falling flakes burst in front of you like silent popcorn. Across the forest no track or blemish of any kind mars the surface as far as the eye can see. And silence broken only by the sigh and hiss of a snowflakes kiss.

This Is Hunting.

Fog lies heavy on the meadow like a blanket; deadening sound and creating beads of moisture that grow until gravity pulls them to the ground. Around me they fall like rain. Somewhere in the distance a bull elk calls. I squeal in return. Silence. Then like a wraith he floats toward me. A ghost with no legs. Once he glances my way, then he’s gone and I release a breath held way to long. I shake my head in wonder. Did he exist or not? I will always question.

This Is Hunting. 

Soft gurgle of an unseen mountain spring filling the pit of mud below. A high mountain pasture flanked by an army of blow-down trees, wild raspberries and game trails so deep they seem etched like the lines in an old hunter’s face. The echoing knock of a woodpecker beak and the buzzing of unseen yellow jackets. A wild chipmunk taking sunflower seeds from my hand as I wait and watch. I look behind at the soft snap of a twig. A yearling black bear sniffing the wind, head high, his cinnamon guard hairs erect and glowing like a halo in the late afternoon sun. Such is the magic to be found at an elk wallow.

This is hunting.

Campfire smoke. Family and good friends. The call of a coyote at dusk, the squeal of an elk at midnight, the grunt of a buck at daybreak. Rainstorms and thunder. Morning mist and sun dappled wildflowers. Stories and toasted marshmallows. Whistle of a dove’s wing, the drum of a grouse. And the wonder in a child’s eyes when you paint his face in camo.

This Is Hunting.

Written by;

Gregory J. Saunders
Hunting 2008

Ahh! September 2008 and an elk hunt! Finally. It’s been seven years of application rejection, but finally the gods of the hunt have cast a raised brow in my direction, an opportunity I seized like a thirsty man in saltwater. Yet life sometimes interferes and my seven year hunt was delayed by five and a half days leaving me with the tail end of the hunt. Imagine my chagrin when arriving upon the hallowed ground that my partner in the hunt, a man who is far more dedicated and lucky than I, has spent the last five plus days in the woods and has spied nothing more than a single very lonely cow. (At least it was a cow elk) Ohh, major let down…  Yet I buck up, put on a happy face and ask about all the usual things. Bugling at night? None. Hunting pressure? Light. Rain? A little. Their current motivation? Eh, so so, and that’s pushing it. The plan for tonight and later days? They had a plan for an evening hunt, and tomorrow they would go home. I suppress my emotions and go with the flow. Hey, I was the one who was five and a half days late! The plan, one man watching a fence line with a natural crossing, one man going after deer in another area, and me, hunting the way I hunt. I would walk and stalk and they would pick me up at dark in a location totally unknown to me and designated by GPS coordinates. (I had scouted the area once, so was not totally lost) And we were off, seeking that one lonely cow elk.

Did I say I liked to walk? I do. No patience for stand hunting. And walk I do. In fact, we were half way to my partners stand when I noticed I was missing a prime piece of necessary equipment. Didn’t I mention GPS coordinates? A twenty minute hike back and I was finally set. The 2008 season was open and I was in the woods. Now I am not one to worry over much about what other people say they have seen or not seen. Everyone hunts differently and I believe one reason my success rate is low is because I get distracted by simple things as I enjoy the experience. The view, a squirrel, a flashy piece of mineral, a field of wild flowers, clouds, and many times the songs in my head. For some reason, a song will pop in and I repeat it over and over ad nausium. Such it was as I stumbled upon my first elk of the season. Whether it was the same lonely cow or not I do not know. If it was, she had several friends now. All of them looking at me a mere moment prior to leaving. Unhurriedly, which was a good sign.

Fast forward a half hour. Me sneaking down a path surrounded by mature Ponderosa in an area that looked like a manicured park with its lack of underbrush and dead limbs. Ahead of me, movement and a bull elk. He is lying in the path about sixty yards away, facing me and yawning repeatedly at the sky. I watch through my binos as he chases flies or perhaps contemplates a bugle. All I see at first is a single long tine. Spike? No… He’s a 3 x 5, the small side with an eye guard and an odd point then a very long spear with shredded velvet still hanging from the tip. My binoculars also reveal another bull standing and facing away rack in the trees so I don’t know how big. I watch awhile contemplating a stalk in conditions less than favorable. The ground was covered in sun dried detritus making each step like treading on crushed glass. My dilemma was solved for me by the breeze (A problem that would plague me the rest of my hunt). They didn’t run but leave they did, headed toward my partners stand. One can hope, but he never saw them. So passed bulls one and two.

Fast forward again about two hours and I am at the planned rendezvous awaiting pickup. It is here I commit my first hunting cardinal sin. I sit next to a tree. You may think this is good. Some cover. It’s a very tall tree with no limbs within reach of my six foot plus frame and no bushes within a twenty yard dash. But damn was it comfortable in the soft pine needles. Enter stage left, one spike and a lovely 5 x 5, both walking straight at me. The wind was perfect but that was about it. I sit there impotently as the spike feeds to within twelve long paces, stops, then stares at me with a clump of sweet grass hanging from his lips. You can see his eyes go wide, his mouth drop open and the grass drop slowly to the ground. He snorts once and bolts out to about sixty yards taking the somewhat bewildered 5 point with him. I don’t compound my mistake by a bugle or cow call and slowly they drift into the dusk. So pass bulls three and four.

One advantage of sleeping in a tent over a camper is you really are still out in nature. You hear all the night sounds. The wirr of a bat wing, coyotes calling the hunt, thunder in the distance and elk. That night I heard three whistles in the distance, each a far off echo and enough to keep me listening for more, and far from sleep. Finally I could stand it no more and I rolled out of the rack well before even a glimmer of dawn blushed the horizon.  My partners opted to sleep in, cozy in their campers, and I can’t blame them. They’d been in the woods for many days and would leave today. I appreciated they’d stayed as long as they did. I executed my plan heading toward a fence-line close to a road. Imagine my chagrin when I heard voices in the dark. Two or more hunters preparing their own plan of attack, and none too quietly at that.  Adversity makes us stronger so I simply sighed and headed off in a different direction.

One ridge and a half hour later the sun is just brushing the tree tops. I pause and listen to a sound  barely heard as I walked. A far off bugle just echoing away and leaving me wondering if my imagination and hope had caused it. Maybe it was a hunter not the imagined behemoth. A thought that was totally disabused a moment later as more bulls opened up. From near and far they screamed at each other. All at once echoing across the basin. Then a pause and one up the hill bellowing, an answer to my left, two screams right and one far behind. At one point I counted seven distinct calls and two more possible. The chills flowing up my spine and the excitement freezing me in place. Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, this alone was worth the price of admission. I know of no more primal call, no other sound that defines nature than the full bugle of a bull elk. Now my dilemma, how to get one.

Fortunately I had choices. With the wind in my face I move up hill toward the closest bull. I have not snuck a hundred yards before spying a silent bull just ahead moving toward the bugling bull. I’m a pretty good judge of bugles and can usually pick out hunters, but even so, I don’t count bulls I hear; only those I see. So the small 5 by is bull number five. I am at sixty yards and following. He’s slow but faster than me in the crunchy dry forest and eventually he hears a crack. Maybe he fears a larger bull behind because I know he didn’t see or smell me. He simple went. Disappearing like a ghost. Though the bull above is bothered not at all, continuing his challenge screaming every few minutes. Answered by rote by the other bulls, none of which seemed willing to leave their high places just bellowing their defiance across valley. The bull above me sounds big and I am not disappointed when I finally put the binoculars on him. A nice heavy animal with long guards and six ivory tips to a side. If my heart wasn’t racing before it is now. I watch in awe as he lays out his neck, opens his mouth exposing a black maw and yellowing teeth. Then he bellows a challenge that rings and echoes with seven long chesty grunts. He cocks and ear and listens as the call is returned five fold. I’m in despair though.  I can see he has command of a saddle top and the wind up there is swirling. The open ground between us give me zero chance of a stalk and given his contentment, I am sure one squeal, bugle or cow call from me will do little but reveal my presence. Given the circumstances, I pass on bull number six.

Ahh, not to worry, there’s other game afoot. Because only a few hundred yards away on another finger of the ridge, another bull is doing his best to fell a tree. The raking and clacking of antler on wood is like a siren call. If he’s that occupied maybe I have a chance. Creeping along the crispy ground, I move only when he’s bugling or raking. But I move with purpose as the magic can’t last forever. However, this time nature is against me. I get to about fifty yards and I can smell him, musky rank and oddly sweet at the same time.  An honest breeze kisses my face for a few moments, then turns and paints the back of my neck. I know I’m had and how right I am. I see him leave, head back nose high, nice 6 x 6 rack pointing to the sky, letting me know he won this round. Into the distance trots number seven, and now silence almost reigns. All the near bulls have gone silent and when I check my watch I am shocked to see almost ninety minutes have passed.  An hour and a half of wild calls and bulls. In the far distance one other bull still sounds off every few minutes taunting me and the other bulls. He probably thinks he’s shamed into silence. A testament to the time of the year, none of these bulls had any cows with them. At least that’s what I believed. I will be disabused of that though a bit later.

Ok, plan four. Close to the top of the tallest ridge line around and believing the elk are heading to bedding areas or ridge saddles for the cool bug free breezes, I move forward. My thought born out when I top the ridge and almost step on a 5 point I never knew was there. I stifle the well deserved curse I cast at myself as number eight thunders away, no doubt taking every other elk in the county with it. Ok! Deep breath and a plan for the long hike back to camp.

Seventy two paces later, (I went back and counted) I see the outline of an elk in the shadows.  She is standing, but several others are bedded, one a spike, his eyes closed and his head rocking slightly in cud chewing contentment. I count those I see and find four cows, two calves and the spike. Yet the sentinel cow has sensed something. She doesn’t snort, just steps away, followed by one of the calves. The spike rises to follow and stands broadside at about forty yards. I have an arrow kissing the string so the question is “shoot or don’t shoot?” My mind is settled on the issue as a movement to the left catches my eye. A 5 point shakes his head, still bedded but bunching his muscles in preparation to lever to his feet. The spike is forgotten as the bull rises and steps into the clear. But he doesn’t stop, instead following the other slowly exiting animals. My call is nestled safely and uselessly in my coat pocket, so I have few options. With very dry lips I force a whistle. The bull stops a perfect broadside, shootable at thirty four yards. One big problem, he’s staring right at me. I hold my breath and turn my eyes down hoping he won’t recognize the threat. He looks a long moment then steps forward. I whistle again and again he pauses and stares at me. Then, when a can almost stand it no more, the bull that had been bugling every few minutes sounds a lonely wail.  My bull swings his head around and stares off into the distance leaving me with the hunters dream. Slowly my bow rises and I pull, groaning and straining with the effort. I try twice, straining with every fiber in my body, and yet the bow would not break over. I drop my arm as the bull walks away never knowing the threat it left in his wake. So pass nine and ten. 

I am not despondent as I reach camp, I am triumphant. I have just experienced what few people will and only those that have can understand. My partners are waiting, their camp packed and ready to leave. They were merely waiting to see if I’d need help carrying out a bull. They cock their heads in question and I am reminded that they have seen little. I ask, “Do you want me to tell you the truth or lie to ya?” We discussed the hunt over a coke and they plied me with questions. Then they headed home leaving me alone in the woods and with a freedom most people only dream of.

One more digression and I promise it’s the last. There is a reason I couldn’t draw the bow. I’d had a shoulder procedure a couple months prior and conditions needed to be about perfect for me to get to full draw. Up the hill I’d been slightly off balance and not square with the bull. I was out of luck on that one and had only one other real option. Quickly I pulled my tools and dropped the weight on the bow then practiced awhile to make sure I could still hit a target. Then lunch, rest and an evening hunt.

That night I hunted long and hard seeing two cows and a coyote but nothing else. Ah, but there was the marrow and I spent a night listening for bugles. I heard coyotes and far off thunder but no elk. I heard the wind rush up and down the canyon and I heard the hoot of an owl, but no elk. As dawn came on the woods, I tried again.

It was not a repeat of yesterday. I spent four hours scouring the woods, all in the same area where I’d seen the bulls and found nothing. No sign, nothing. It was as if there were no animals anywhere. The only thing I can really remember was a few ravens and a tassel eared squirrel.  No bugling and no tree raking. Wow! What a difference a day makes. I returned to camp thinking a nap and a new plan was in order. But no. This was my last full day and I was determined to make the most of it. A bit disappointed, I decided to make another pass in the same area, leaving another part of the mountain for later. The wind was blowing and clouds were building as I set out though it was hot. My thought was to check some dark timber and some bedding areas. I never made it. Cruising down a logging road I kept an eye out for anything. The wind was moderate and I watched as it moved the trees this way and that across the hills. Thus, at first I missed it. I was glassing when I saw a tree whipping in a very un-tree like matter. Pulling the binoculars back I see that the tree has a very ice bull attached to it, raking the small Ponderosa for all he’s worth as he polished his antlers and marked his territory.  A perfect setup. His butt is facing me and several trees are between us. I stalk forward, moving only when his face is buried in the tree. I get to thirty yards, just ready move to the side and take a shot. But the wind changes and a cow elk come boiling out of the trees cutting up hill and away. The bull looks at her, mostly in curiosity, then trots about twenty yards and stops behind a small grove. Thinking I still have a chance, I cow call once. He groans and starts in on another tree. Then the wind shifts again and he’s gone.  Bull number eleven. Bull twelve comes as I walk back to camp on the same logging road. He is a rag horn and is less than a city block from my tent. He went one way, I went back for lunch.

At 1:30 the clouds were building and I decide the change is good. A little rain to stir things up and it’s been a long time since I hunted in the falling wet stuff. I hike a mile and rain it does, driving me into a thick area where I hear several animals. Bull or cow? Buck or doe? I never find out, though as I walk ghostlike across the mountain top I run face to face into lucky bull number thirteen. He is on the same trail and we both clear the top of a rise only a few yards apart. Which is more surprised? Me I guess. He reacts first and is gone, crashing down the hill, only to turn somewhere in the thicket and bellow at me once. Given the position on the ridge I believe it was the same bull that had called so often yesterday. Though of course, I will never know for sure.

3:30 has come and the soaking storm has passed. I’m excited. The woods will be perfect for still hunting and stalking. I spend the time until dark combing the forest, finally finding a small herd a few minutes before the sun hits the horizon.  Seven cows, a couple of calves and bull number fourteen, a spike. All of them feeding just inside the trees along a meadow. I literally walk beside them for two hundred yards deciding whether to shoot. I have tomorrows hunt as I am here until noon, and have little desire to shoot a spike or a cow. Were it a bigger bull I would light him up. Instead I walk the other way arriving back at camp at dusk. Four separate hunts in one day, each very different. I check the GPS and find just how far I’d gone. 11.82 miles of hard country hunt. No wonder my feet were sore and the beer tasted so good. 

Late that night I crawl out of the tent to answer the call of nature. It’s black and I expect cloud cover but the stars are shining above. It’s a bit surreal. Around me there are little flashes of light. Lightening in the distance behind the hills very far off. No thunder just a half seen flash here and there. I crawl back in and a lone bugle follows me to slumber. It comes from back on the ridge where I’d met the bull in the rain. Me thinks he mocks me. Later in the night it mists a fine rain and at dawn it’s pouring. An hour later I don my clothes and pack up a wet camp. I’m done. Bulls fourteen Greg nothing. It was wonderful.

What didn’t I mention in this story? Desk bound muscles screaming at me for the abuse I put them through. The smell of wet sage, the crushed pine needles I rub on my clothes to mask my scent. A patch of wild raspberries and an outcropping of shale, vertical and moss covered that goes across a ridge top for a hundred yards. A thousand other things I can’t describe but will remain alive within me. The solitude and the freedom. I can’t wait till next year.


The Unsuccessful Hunter!

Not too long ago I remember a hunt where as I was walking back to my tent I passed a camp with a nice bull hanging in the shade of a tree. Naturally I stopped to “chew the fat” a bit. The man was nonchalant and almost uncaring that he’d tagged this magnificent animal. Just another day in the office for him. Driving out that morning he’d spied the bull in a field near the road. “Simply a matter of stepping out to the fence and dropping him. About like every year. Probably won’t even bother to hunt next year.” I just walked away. Sad that this man totally missed the point. So I say to you, “Woe to the hunter who is always successful!” I know a few, and you know them as well. Perhaps you yourself even fit the description. The guy who fills his tag every year. The hunter who fairly oozes success. You always hear his story. “Yea, I just stepped out of the truck and there he was. Almost fell into the bed!” Or, “I was just sitting at camp and the dang thing walked right in.  Almost stepped on me!” I for one, would rather be unsuccessful and know the glory of nature than have one animal give itself to me, because this is the experience at its best and is the reason I hunt.    

I have camped in the woods and on the grasslands. Have spent endless hours fishing. And I can’t possibly count the hours spent hiking or rock hounding. Yet, none of these activities brings you as close to nature as a single morning of unsuccessful hunting. Don’t get me wrong. A morning of successful hunting definitely has its points, but ‘hunting’ is the key word. Judge the success of the experience not the outcome.

Had I been successful one morning I would have never seen coyote pups playing and learning to stalk each other, oblivious to the fact I sat near. I would never have seen a cinnamon bear cub backlit by the sun, its guard hairs shimmering in the light, rimming his outline in silver. Had I been successful on another hunt I would have missed the bachelor herd of mule deer. Seven total standing together, antlers looking so much like a pole patch. I was hunting elk that morning by the way. Had I been successful hunting I would have never been privy to the mating calls of a couple of love sick porcupines. (One of them almost ran me over in its hurry to get to his intended!)  I would have never seen an albino Pronghorn nor seen the harvest moon rise when I was deep in the forest and far from camp. Had I tagged early I would have missed a night under a full moon watching bull elk spar in a meadow, their challenges echoing up and down the valley. 

Unsuccessful hunting taught me where a bull keeps himself cool when it’s warm, and when he rises to forage in the afternoon. I now know the gray squirrel isn’t just scolding me but the bull as well. You know you're succeeding when the same gray squirrel sits on your leg calmly dismembering a pinecone as you watch over a wallow.  

To be unsuccessful means to learn.  Each unsuccessful experience in the field teaches and shows me more than the experience before. 

So, after all this rambling what do I really mean? Hunting.  Really hunting!  It means totally immersing yourself into the natural world. I have personally never known any other activity that so completely requires all of your senses working in tandem, bent towards a single outcome. A wise man once told me, “Hunt as if your next meal depended on it!” This is why just being out there doesn’t cut it. Experience it on this level even once and you will see nature as only a privileged few ever have. And if you experience the perfection even once, you’ll be hooked for life.
Gregory J. Saunders
Submitted to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (August 2009)

10,000 Feet

There is something very special about this number,something magical that keeps drawing me back to the same spot year after year.10,000 feet is where aspen groves and huge stands of fir and spruce line openmeadows tinged in wildflowers and hip high grass. Below are the ponderosa andpiňon forests, hot and almost desert dry. Above the trees give up and barrenscree covered escarpments dominate like jagged teeth bared in defiant challengeto the sky. Above and below hold a certain beauty of their own, but 10,000 feetis where I chose to play.   

There is a spot in Northern New Mexico that fits thedescription above to a T. In New Mexico, water is king and if your wish is to escapepeople and find solitude, you need to leave the fishing waters behind. That’swhat I do whenever I can. No streams or lakes to draw the crowd. No boom boxesor ATV’s. No generators and no neighbors. I have spent days in this specialspot and never seen another human. At 10,000 feet it’s cool when the summer sunbakes the high plains and desert. In fall, aspens turn with the first bugles ofa September rut and the clack of antler on antler resounds across the highmountain fingers. Spring is crisp and ever changing, an alpine renewal that canleave you breathless. For me it’s about wilderness and nature and ultimately,it’s about family.

I remember the first time I visited this spotnestled off highway 64 near Tres Piedras. Lured there in high summer by thepromise of a bull elk tag in the fall, and led there by a brother-in-law thathad logged the area a few years before in the late 70’s. Imagine my skepticism,trying to bow hunt a logging operation, “did ya leave any trees?” I asked. Hejust smiled and nodded a ‘maybe’. But the logging operation had gone the way ofthe dodo bird and we cruised rugged roads through tall forests cut by deepdrainages and virtual pastures of grass. Excited, he led me down a particularridge to a spot still I return to year after year. A wallow high on the northside of a ravine overlooking a spring fed creek lined in willow and wild iris withgame trails crossing like contrails across a dusky sky. Almost in reverence hewhispers to me, “ain’t this just elky as hell”. 

That was some 33 years ago and the place still is anelky paradise, but it’s so much more as well. It’s the spot where I taught myboys to shoot a .22 and cast an arrow. Introduced them to flocks of wild turkey,the taste of campfire roasted spruce grouse, constellations and moonlit nightsso bright you could read a book. Counted satellites and searched the sky forhours just to wish on a falling star. Where my wife and I spent three days inthe rain under an awning, tending a fire and simply enjoying the wonders of naturearound us, not another care in the world. The place where I called a bull elkinto the campsite one night, all the way to the fire. I saw my first bobcat inthese woods, fed wild chipmunks by hand and had the misfortune of findingmyself between a lovesick porcupine and his intended. A place where you can sitand eat wild raspberries from a ridge top while watching drifting clouds paintshadowed images across far mountains while trying to imagine what might be‘over there’. We’ve sat at camp and watched wild horses and elk graze in themeadow below us and listened to the bands of coyotes as they sing to the moonrise or the successful hunt.

From this campsite you can explore old mines, hikeor bike miles of woodland game trails and satisfy the amateur geologist in you.This is mineral rich country and many of my hunts ended with me carrying twentyor thirty pounds of rock back to camp, each a new edition to the homesteadlandscaping. I’ve chipped away at a bluff face of white quartz when I shouldhave been hunting just to see if I could find a trace of what the old minerswere looking for, and stumbled over the remnants of a hundred year old shovelstamped “Good Lock” in a place so remote you would have thought I was the firstever to visit. Then of course there is the wild side, animals and plants, and Icould cite the diversity of flora and fauna almost endlessly, but since thisfact is self evident so I will leave it be.

Even the temperament of weather and the earth itselfprovide excitement. From our camp you can watch as storm clouds build and rolltoward you, lightning and thunder and whipping wind. In a single day you canhave heat then rain, then snow and back to heat. I have seen summer snowstormsand blinding fall blizzards and winter days where you could be comfortable morethan catching a suntan. And at night, when all is calm and quiet, you may evenfeel the earth move. With a groan and a rumble the camper will sway with the gentlequakes that remind you how big and alive this world really is, and that in somethings you truly have no control. It can be a very humbling experience.

Four dogs have grown old following me around thesewoods and now a new one has taken their place, warding our camp against wildanimals, errant butterflies and the occasional passing truck. Two boys, grownfrom infants to young men as tall as me shared this site and my many adventuresas I hope their families will share it as well, each building memories from allthat these mountains have to offer. Adventure, solitude, simplicity and best ofall, companionship.

Hunting? Yes there has been a bit of that. Everyhunt is a success whether you tag an animal or not. Usually ‘not’ has been myexperience, though I did take my first bull elk with a bow not far from camp. Ihave chased deer, called elk and flushed grouse all up and down these hills andnever regretted a minute of it. I have hunted alone and with partners and eachhunt was special. Once I called in a bull that nearly stepped on my wife as shecurled up in a little camo bundle while waiting for me to shoot. She was mad atme after for not taking the shot even when I explained that at ten yards all Isaw through the trees were two elk legs, an ivory antler tip and her saucerwide eyes. She was also there to witness my calling prowess as I bugled andcow-called another bull into such a frenzy that he thrashed a six foot pinesapling to splinters and gored the bark off the base of an eighty foot tall aspen,all the while his cows lying peacefully chewing their cud, flicking flies fromtheir ears and generally ignoring his testosterone induced antics. Ghost bulls,herd bulls, satellite bulls, spikes and rag horns. All have challenged me atone time or another. I’ve shot over em and under em, and the trees in front ofem; hey, it’s not always like the elk hunting videos where every shot is atfifteen yards in the open with the bull conveniently looking the other way.Errant branches you didn’t see, the limb on your bow smacking your knee or abranch above because of the contortionist position you have to shoot from allplayed a factor, and I find myself smiling when out on a hike and I come acrossthe places where these tableaus played out, able to relive each experience inmy mind time after time.

Memories, the outdoors and nature. That’s whatbrings me back year after year, season after season. Memories of past tripswhether they be for camping or hunting. Memories of the family and friends whohave shared my adventures. Memories of my kids growing up and yes, memories ofdogs, old and new. The outdoors have always called to me, and spending so muchtime at the same spot gives you an appreciation of seasons and the rhythms of nature,ever changing and yet always the same. And of course, there is the anticipationof memories not yet made. Perhaps this year I will get that clean unobstructedshot on a royal bull just like in the videos, but mostly I anticipate more explorationand adventure in these mountains with my wife and sons, and maybe, in thefuture, a grand kid or two. All I know is, 10,000 feet holds a special placethat I hope to camp and hunt for years and years to come and when I am old andgrey and can’t anymore climb these hills, I will still savor those memories.

Greg Saunders 2009