November 04, 2010
Time spent in the woods together by father and son is always time well spent.
Editor's Note: Kyle Hartman wrote this essay for school. We have edited Kyle's story slightly for length, but otherwise it remains exactly as Kyle has written it.
My dad and I have only grown closer thanks to a special day in the elk woods.
As the sun starts to peek over the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and warm the sleeping trees and hills below, we have reached the hunting grounds. We unpack the quad and hike in to our post. Slowly and quietly we advance, picking wild blueberries along the way. The steady sound of our breath is hardly noticeable. The whole landscape is quiet.
We have named this place Big Bird Lake. The lake resembles Big Bird's footprint. We set up and prepare to wait. I look through the binoculars at the distant ridge. There is an angled field of grass and huge boulders. Edged on the southern side of the field is a fierce-looking wall of rocks and trees pushing through a granite face. The north side drops off into a maze of trees and the western edge meets a long, rugged hill washed out by the season's rain and snow.
Around the lake there are many mud holes and mud pits where the elk wallow and coat themselves with a combination of mud and a pungent fluid released by a gland on their inner thigh. This scent attracts the female elk to the bulls and hopefully allows nature to take its course. The lake is fronted on the north side by a long skinny field of weeds and tall grass. The field ends about 400 feet from the lake and adjoins trees on all sides. We sit and wait just to the west of the field.
As we patiently wait, I notice how pure the mountain air is and how majestically quiet the landscape is. There are birds and mallards that fly into view and land on the lake. We can hear the wind float over their feathers in a whistling sound and hear the echo 10 times over as they hit the water and glide to a stop. This is truly the quietest place on earth.
The day is coming to a close when we finally see them -- a handsome group of three to four bull elk and about seven cow elk on the distant ridge. They are slowly advancing across the field and soon after, disappear into the forest. I use my cow call to hopefully herd them into view. The mighty bulls respond, and the group gets closer and louder every time we hear them.
While we are waiting and calling the elk, I see four mule deer moving into the skinny field in front of us. While the bucks keep watch, the does gorge themselves on the tall grass. I look just south of the lake and notice a coyote hunting for rats and other rodents in the weeds. It is absolutely astonishing that all these different creatures can share the same 600 feet of water.
The landscape grows cold as the sun drifts behind the mountains. Our most perfect day is coming to an end, and the hope of leaving the forest with a massive bull elk strapped to the four-wheeler drifts away.
"It seems to be that time," my dad says disappointedly.
"No worries, Dad, this day was awesome! We got to see birds fly, coyotes hunt, deer flourish, and I was able to hear my first elk in the wild," I say.
We agree that it is finally time to desert the hunting grounds and make our way back to the four-wheeler when I notice them. The elk we have been calling all day have finally come into the skinny field. They advance toward the lake and my heart begins to beat erratically. My dad readies his bow. The elk are so close we can hear their feet as they walk through the field. Yet the light is dim, and a good shot would be nearly impossible to make.
"It isn't worth making a bad shot and scaring them away from their only water for a mile," says my dad. We quietly move out of the valley and talk about the sights we have seen.
I recall the whole day as clearly as when it happened. It was an amazing hunt. I have seen things that many people have never seen before and heard sounds that can only be heard at that lake. As for my father, me and him are the best of friends and have grown closer since that day. I will never forget the great times we have shared, and I will always be ready to do it all over again.