Heading up into the hills… my first real hunt
By Randal B. Thatcher
After four years of living in this lovely, high-mountain valley of ours, and having had so many horizon-broadening “country” experiences during that time, I wasn’t sure how many of these experiential “firsts” were still left for me to assimilate. But then came autumn and hunting season, and yet another first-ever exploit that I would not likely have had if I’d never moved here.
My alarm jarred me rudely awake at what is, for me, the rarely conscious hour of 4 a.m. (or what my avid hunter-friends refer to as “O Dark Hundred”).
Pulling on the thickest and warmest clothes I’d worn in several months, and slinging on a backpack crammed with water-bottles and granola-bars, I headed out the door and into the chilly darkness to await the Ford F-150 pickup truck that would usher me up into the burgeoning autumnal colors of the Manti-La Sal Mountains (once we could finally see anything at all, that is).
I wondered, first, why we’d needed to get such a preposterously early and pitch-dark start to our Fairview safari. But, one hour later, standing in the predawn gloom of the forest, amid the shadowy giants of fir and pine, I listened with rapt awe to the eerie, ethereal echoes of dozens of bull-elk, as they ‘bugled’ all around me, and answered my own question.
Second, I wondered if, when faced with that fateful moment of finding one of those majestic animals within my cross-hairs, I’d be able to actually pull the trigger. This internal conundrum was easily solved by no one in our hunting party allowing me anywhere near any of the three high-powered rifles they’d brought with them.
I was relegated, once dawn had broken, to spotting nearby elk by peering through a friend’s camouflaged binoculars (which, since I couldn’t actually fire a gun, helped me to feel I was making my own small contribution to our collective hunting effort).
And I did spot some elk—quite a few of them. Shots were fired. And the reverberating report of the very first rifle-shot was so startlingly and unexpectedly loud that my feet involuntarily left the ground at the exact moment that a flock of birds sprang en masse into the sky overhead.
It was all more thrilling than I’d imagined: being part of a real hunting party with formidable-looking guns and shiny, brass, rifle cartridges, and all of us wearing our requisite orange caps and vests—I was actually hunting!
As the sun rose higher into the morning sky, I was told our chances of success would continue to decline with each missed shot and passing hour.
So, it was with a palpable excitement that I peered through the binoculars to witness what I thought was an elk falling to the ground after another deafening explosion from a friend’s steadily aimed rifle.
“Yes or no?” He called to me. “Yes… YES!”
At those words—my own overwrought exclamations—we drove the truck as near the spot as possible, then hiked in an ever-expanding circle around the area where I thought the animal had fallen.
After a solid hour of exhaustive (and exhausting) searching, however, my companions’ confidence in what I was so certain I’d seen began to wane.
Relieved of my spotting duties (having sheepishly relinquished the binoculars), the hunt continued. More shots were fired, succeeding only in scaring more birds into the air.
By 1 p.m., even my own optimistic hopes were beginning to ebb as the promising sounds of nearby bugling elk faded, and our whispered deliberations of which way we might go to stalk this herd or that were becoming louder and more distracted by discussions of our impending cheeseburger luncheon down in the valley.
And that’s how it ended: over cheeseburgers and fries; talk of the one that got away; good-natured ribbing of the guy who was so sure of what he’d seen through the binoculars, and of the next hunt, and of that big, elusive buck we were all convinced we’d bag the next time out.
I don’t know how likely it is that I’ll even be invited on that next expedition (for reasons already mentioned); but for that day, even if only for that one time, I got to feel part of a real hunt.
And the next time I happen to find myself with a group of local sportsmen all waxing rhapsodic about their most recent hunt and of that unmistakable sound of surrounding bull-elk all bugling majestically out there in the wild, I can finally smile a broad and sagely smile while adding my own knowing nod.
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