The greatest delight of hunting season is often found not in the harvest of a known quarry, but rather in the sudden and unexpected surprises served up when seasoned hunters have convinced themselves that they have seen it all.
I saw the biggest buck of the year on the last day of the season. He was standing next to a sign along a back county road. The sign read, “Public Hunting Area.” I’d overheard a neighbor say that he had been on a ridge opening morning and counted over thirty florescent orange patches flickering through the cover in that area. That old buck kept his cool and his head. He gave my son and me a thrill as we watched him hop up onto the roadway and coolly leap the adjacent fence into still another public hunting area. It is surprising that all of the technology and advantages that hunters have developed over the years are still no match for a smart old buck that knows better than to pick his head up until after sundown.
Elk season held surprises too. The last day had been a challenge. My client had hired me after spending 13 days without seeing an elk while hunting on his own. We hunted hard for the three final days and at noon of the last day, we were closing the distance. I never entered this particular bedding area during the season. The escape route was a sheer cliff and a poor shot would put our bull at the bottom of one of the deepest canyons in the county. The sign on the ground told me that the elk were just over the next ridge. I cautioned my hunter to be sure of his shot and to try and drop his trophy in its tracks. As we edged over the limestone wall that separated us from the elk, he was taken aback. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to shoot anything down in that jungle.” The words had hardly come out of his mouth when a pair of bulls stood up from their beds below us. I had suggested that he chamber a round before we peered over the rim, but after over two weeks of repeated failure he had declined. We were both mentally unprepared. His surprise at the last minute opportunity caused him to reach for his binoculars instead of his rifle. That was all the time the five and the six point bulls needed. They slipped over the canyon’s rim and disappear.
This season’s final surprise was big and black.
It would be hard for a hundred pounds of black Wyoming wolf to hide on a sun-bleached prairie pasture. That’s probably why the male from Jackson Hole was photographed south of Gillette in April. Then again, a shadow looks no different. A still black wolf could easily pass for a pocket of darkness under a ledge or seemingly disappear on the lee side of a sage patch. The sheep-killing wolf taken last week by Hammond, Montana rancher Duane Talcott, finally made his mistake by trying to hide among a flock of snow white lambs. The surprising thing about the Hammond wolf isn’t that he made it up from Jackson Hole or that he was caught killing sheep. The surprising thing is how many times he was seen over the last year and yet survived in cattle country. He spent time in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana over the last year. He was sighted on the Red Water in Butte County three weeks ago and in the Recluse Hills of Wyoming, this summer.
Last winter I gave a presentation to the Black Hills Sportsman’s Association about the coming of the wolves. The surprise is in how little time it took them to get here.