If you had told me in 2013 that in 2015 I’d be hunting elk, I would have laughed in your face.
Walking through a forest of Ponderosa pines, though, with the sun on my shoulders, pine needles beneath my feet, and a rifle at my side, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.
Ah, the zig-zags of life!
Robin Hood convinced me earlier this year to put in for an elk tag, despite the fact that until then I had only accompanied him on hunting trips as a supportive girlfriend (now wife). Sure enough, I drew for cow elk, and after lots of practice with Robin Hood’s .270 Winchester, there we were on a late October evening, driving north towards the Santa Fe National Forest.
Our party consisted of myself, Robin Hood, his dad, and our friend Paul. It was raining during most of our drive, which dampened (heh!) our excitement, but not by much. Thankfully, it stopped by the time we got to our campsite.
The next morning, a.k.a. The First Hunt, we got a dark and early start, and wouldn’t you know we saw two elk…on…private property.
Further observation and tracking were fruitless. Unfazed, we kept at it.
We went out before sunrise each morning and shortly before dusk each afternoon. We saw tons of deer, rabbits, and fox squirrels. The elk proved much more elusive, but I honestly didn’t mind too much – I was distracted by the beauty of our surroundings.
I think that in order to see New Mexico at its best, you have to go into the wilderness. Walking up and down steep hills was hard work, but it was worth it. Stepping from the woods into a mountain clearing felt like entering a majestic cathedral. I found myself compelled to be not just hunter-quiet, but silent. I almost looked around for holy water to dip my fingers in.
The depths of the forest had their magic, too. I saw one-time creek beds, now grown over with moss, that so help me looked straight out of Bridge to Terabithia. I saw vibrant fall foliage, and breathed in the scent of pine till I got a little light-headed. I rode on the back of Robin Hood’s four-wheeler through the whole spectacular landscape, hanging on tight but feeling a joyful, reckless freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time.
It was the kind of weekend where you can just tell God is winking at you.
But back to the hunting.
On our very last excursion of the weekend, we elected to hunt amidst a fairly dense cover of juniper and sagebrush. We hadn’t been out for very long when Robin Hood, who was just ahead of me, stopped and pointed. I looked where he was pointing and saw definite movement. I couldn’t tell, though – was it an elk? Deer? Raucous squirrels?
Elk, my husband whispered. We moved oh so carefully forward.
The elk, no fool, used the juniper and sagebrush as cover and slipped away, but we were hot on its trail. We followed fresh tracks and fresh droppings, and I wondered, is this finally my chance? Every time we crested a rise, we were sure we’d see that elk. I had my rifle at the ready, safety off.
It wasn’t to be.
The elk stayed two steps ahead of us, used its cover shrewdly, and with rapidly diminishing daylight as the proverbial cherry on top, got away.
I conceded defeat for this hunting trip, but without any hard feelings.
And I’m already looking forward to doing it again.