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Author Topic: The Sunlit Meadow - by Douglas DuRant  (Read 545 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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The Sunlit Meadow - by Douglas DuRant
« on: May 22, 2003, 06:51:00 PM »
The Sunlit Meadow

by Douglas DuRant


It is cold and raining lightly. I have found a spruce tree with sheltering limbs conveniently three or four feet off the  ground. Ducking the branches I sit with my back against the tree’s trunk and settle in. Night’s darkness is an hour and a half away. Chirping like a cow elk and then bugling I listen for any response.


The meadow in front of me sends my mind wandering down trails from times past. I have been here before, and the familiarity of this meadow triggers memories. Heavy skies, the dark embracing spruce limbs, and the earth’s damp smell seem appropriate for turning inward to reflect on things gone.


J. D. McDaniel and I, two years before, camped on a ridge in the tall spruce on the other side of this meadow. After exhausting days of hunting while sitting around our small camp fire in the cold night we were serenaded by bulls on both sides of Weminuche Creek. We had elk walk into camp late at night while we slept; only to be awakened as they stampeded to less peopled habitat.


East of here at the top of Trail Ridge,  J.D. and I bugled in the waning darkness of dawn. I thought I had heard stones rolling kicked by the  hooves of an unseen animal just over the ridge. J.D. said he hadn’t heard anything. I insisted that we at least move over to where we could see down the ridge. Standing up, we did this, and J.D. said “ bugle again”. I did  with bows held uselessly at our sides. Of course a five by five bull came immediately into view at thirty-five yards and stopped. J.D. said “Shoot! He’s looking at Me.”, and I replied “he’s looking at me too!” as we helplessly held bows with no arrows nocked. The bull looked around Unaware when a short low grunt of a call was heard to our left. Two bulls then crashed thundering down the steep slope below us. The unseen grunting bull was what I heard walking by earlier, and was the bigger of the two.


Later that same mourning we heard a bull bugling down below us in the vicinity of the meadow over which I am currently watching. The sun that late in the morning was topping Trail Ridge, and the lower sections of the meadows below were sunlit. They were surrounded by dark green spruce and light green and golden aspen. The sight was spellbinding for this hunter, with the song of wapiti playing like the siren’s call to Ulysses. We called back as we descended into the spruce below us. The bull’s bugling continued to invite us farther through the timber down the slope. As we lost elevation the forest turned from spruce to aspen, and we slowed down to listen. We took a stand at the edge of a high meadow and bugled. The bull deemed not to respond, but introduced me to the string of sunlit meadows that led down to the sunlit meadow before me


It was cold and lightly raining just 15 minutes ago as I bent under the low snagging spruce limbs.  The sun is out from behind the clouds. How quickly the weather can change , and how often the wind can shift in this mountain country. I call again with the exuberance born of the change in lighting, and float back again to two years ago.


It was a sunshiny afternoon when J.D. and I crossed Weminuche Creek, and went up the ridge west of here. We found a wallow in what would be called a holler back east in the Appalachian Mountains. J.D. took a spot overlooking the wallow. I moved down hill away and gave a bugle, and uphill from us got a bugle back. The bull moved down toward us bugling. I returned his challenges. He came in close to the wallow, but was hidden from sight by a screen of spruce trees. He racked his heavy antlers in one of the trees. I raked a fallen branch roughly over the bark of the tree beside me. The encounter lasted several minutes, and ended with the bull bugling in the distance as we pursued calling after him. J.D.’s experience was exhilarating, and inn hindsight we thought he should have moved on the beast while he was raking the trees with his antlers.


We chased bulls for several days on the other side of Weminuche Creek with some close encounters, but no success. Early one morning a bugling bull, with which I was desperately tiring to close, led me steeply up an unfamiliar finger ridge. He bugled and led his cows farther up the mountain. I bugled and chased after him, and he got mad enough that he screamed and came charging back toward me. He stopped sixty yards out and began raking his antlers in a tree. I challenged him, but probably should have tired to move closer. He turned and led his cows away. I moved quickly after them, only to blunder into the herd a couple hundred yards ahead. The resulting stampede was impressive.


I found myself in the late evening the same day up the heavily timbered finger ridge above the holler with the wallow. I had been very quiet while getting into position near several elk trails. When I cow called I received several answering calls in a semicircle around me. I had my Jeffery recurve ready with arrow nocked. Movement in the thick under story of the forest ahead turned into a bull  stepping onto one of the elk trials. He came toward me, and stopped thirty yards in front of me. I was tempted to shoot, but the big six by six bull was facing me straight on. The mounting tension of the moment was exhilarating. The bull turned back up the trail into cover to quick for me to take a shot. I cow called, and got several replies. The other elk were moving as if by telepathy in the same direction as the bull. I saw pieces of elk move by, but had no shots. Calling  I followed the elk, but failed to make contact again.


The sun is still shining in the meadow. It is dropping, however, toward the western ridge where my day dreams have been lingering. I bend over as I rise to leave the pleasant shelter of the old spruce. It’s clinging limbs grabbing for me. Slightly light-headed from standing quickly, my stiff knees take me downhill where the meadow widens. I enter an arm of trees which runs out into the center of the meadow. The thick string of trees divide the meadow into a smaller upper section, and a lower bigger meadow. I kneel among the trees, and brashly call like a challenging stag. I listen….  I was listening like this in a bigger meadow on the first evenings hunt last year. The meadow is just a quarter mile north of where I am kneeling now.


I was kneeling then near the rocky seep the elk used as a wallow the year before. I had just brashly bugled then On my downwind side an elk upslope barked at me. It sounded like a single el breaking braches as it left. Latter that evening I watched five mule deer bucks feeding across the big meadow by the seep. Two of them were good four by fours. I was elk hunting, and didn’t have a deer tag. On the way back to camp after dark I saw some very big bear tracks. The bear tracks were positive incentive not to get lost like I did a couple of times the year before. Not that I was really lost. I just wasn’t interested in wandering around for two extra hours ion the dark forest again.


The sunlit meadow is darker now. The sun is setting, and the shadows have lengthened themselves out of existence. A subtle reddish hue pervades the world to which I have been listening. An elk’s bugle can be heard quite away in the still evening air from this now reddish meadow. I bugle, and decide to stay where I am. Elk have a habit of coming into meadows at this time of day. It was darker than now in this sunlit turn reddish meadow when I heard bugling last year.


Greg Price had a mule deer tag, so did Mike. Greg was the one I convinced to try his luck at the bucks I had seen a few days before. I was to cross Weminuche creek to hunt the elk filled ridges of the proceeding year.


This was Greg’s first western hunting trip so I showed him the hard to follow trail into the sunlit meadow east of the Weminuche. The difficult trail was in fact a series of game trails that split from each other, and stayed above the cliffs and rough forest terrain below. When followed to the sunlit meadow of my reverie the last of the series of game trails ended beside three quakies that stood a short way out into the meadow. We agreed to meet by the three quakies, and get lost together on our way back to camp after dark. I suggested he return to this meadow before dark if the mule deer bucks didn’t cooperate. I related my belief that the barking elk at the seep wallow was probably a young bachelor bull, and suggested Greg should still hunt his way back to the sunlit meadow as not to spook any elk that might prove to be ahead of him.


I jumped rocks across the Weminuche, and steeply climbed the finger ridge. I called from the big pine Where I missed the year before, and had an unseen elk bark and bolt. I moved up the mountain noticing fresh elk sign. I stayed late, and made a rapid descent in the failing light to the meadows along the west side of  Weminuche creek. It was dark now, but not yet dark enough for flashlights. I bugled and listened, as I prepared to jump rocks, above me in the sunlit meadow I heard three bugles in reply. This was our signal if we had shot an animal. When I made the half mile to the meadow, I was out of breath from climbing, and Greg was excited. He said he was hurrying back to the three quakies, and bumped into a three by four bull at the base of the string of trees. The bull trotted from the upper section to the lower meadow, while Greg also eased through the trees to the lower meadow.  Greg was just three steps short of a clear shot into the meadow when the bull stopped at Greg’s maximum shooting distance.  Then chance and fate combined, and I bugled at the rock jump crossing. The bull looked in my direction away from Greg, and Greg tool the three steps and shot. The arrow hit the bull in its center, just a little far back of what he wanted. The bull ran out of sight toward the three quakies. Greg then bugled three time back to me in his excitement.


A chill settles in me after the sun takes its warmth behind the western ridge, and darkness settles on the meadow of the arrowed elk. Rising slowly I realize, I will arrow no elk this day. The damp chill darkness hurries me across the meadow to the elk trail by the three quakies. I will need a flashlight in the darker recesses of the trees.


We needed a flashlight to blood trail the elk. Greg said he thought he heard the elk crash in the trees. When I ask him if a compass heading to the sound of the crash had been taken, he said he was with me and I had a compass so he didn’t need one. Greg had marked where the elk had been standing. We trailed the sparse blood trail for fifty yards with it becoming harder to find. Greg wanted to look where he heard the elk fall, and after a short futile search we returned to the blood trail.


We soon picked up more blood sign, and it took us right by the three quakies. The sign led into the darkness of the forest trees, along our trail out, but shortly turned uphill. I asked Greg if he too smelled the elk. He said he did. I checked the wind with the flame of a lighter, to find it blowing in our faces as we followed the blood trail. There he was on his side three hundred yards from where Greg had shot. The arrow had taken him at the back of the rib cage, and fatally pierced the liver. We were ecstatic as we approached the downed elk. Even in death he was a majestic animal, and we felt deeply impressed on many levels. We set to the task of quartering him, and after a couple of hours had to hang the meat away from the remains. Hopefully out of the reach of bears and coyotes.


We made our way back to the three quakies, and headed up the game trail out. Only to have lost the trail a short time later. We spent several hours of rough climbing in the dark with daypacks weighted down by backstrap, tenderloin, and antlers. At camp about 2:30 in the morning, the tenderloin fried in butter and spiced with salt and pepper was the best you could hope to ever eat.


Coyotes are howling their nocturnal songs to each other as I walk in the deeper darkness of the trees down the elk trail not far from where last years bull fell. The big trees seem surreal at night, and the trail at various places is often better determined by studying your way with the light off.  I must pay attention here: this is where we lost the trail last year.


It has been an enjoyable evening’s hunt even if the only elk encountered were on trails leading from the past;  branching off from the now dark sunlit meadow

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