After parking atop a ridge in Unit 60 at Island Park two hours before daylight, I rolled down my window to listen to the first sounds of the mountain. A pack of coyotes began howling from nearby Crystal Butte, while another pack attempted to respond from the Davis Lakes region. A few domestic cattle bellowed with calves crying out for their mothers to feed them.
Wrapped in my winter coat, I partially rolled up my window to keep some of the 26 degree cold out of the truck on opening day, Oct. 5, of my first deer hunt. Warm enough to fall asleep, I was rudely awakened by a bugle from a bull elk that sounded like he was almost in my truck. It was answered by another bull from a nearby grove of trembling aspen trees.
“Dang,” I thought.
It seemed that the elk had been driven out of the thick forest and into the desert by the recent archery hunt and had probably hunted the deer. I parked near a major crossroads trail that migrating big game animals had used for years, where I have successfully ended deer hunts in the past.
As the pre-dawn light created a light in the eastern sky, I could make out the ghostly shadows of elk feeding on the edge of a trembling aspen and a lone pine. Four bulls, each with their own harem of cows, challenged each other as I put my gun away and grabbed my camera.
After observing and photographing the elk, an isolated rifle shot from a hunter in the apartments stopped the bugle and the elk quickly moved into a large grove of aspen surrounded by thick Saracens. A lone rag-horn bull followed silently about a quarter of a mile behind the last herd as it hid from the marauding deer and moose hunters.
It was the first in a series of popular successes from a day of no-shot deer hunting. Oh I saw a lot of deer but they were too far away or impractical for my 76 year old legs to drag one. On a visit with a real cowboy collecting cows “before it snows next Tuesday” he gave me the real answer.
“Why would you want to harvest a deer on the opening day of a month-long season and lose the excuse of coming and enjoying more days like this!” “
I thought about this comment throughout the day as I watched the Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk scavenge the grassy areas between the thick brush. The mountain bluebird, the bird of the state of Idaho, congregates in large flocks preparing to migrate south. In the 70 degree heat, the grasshoppers and butterflies are still active, producing them a nice lunch as they attacked the insects from the fence posts on the mountain.
Speaking of lunch, I didn’t even have to eat alone. While I was relaxing in my gravity chair, observing some ridges, and eating my lunch, three Gray Jays, commonly referred to as “Camp Thieves,” visited me and begged for a few crumbs from my sandwich. .
“If you don’t enjoy a day like this; it’s your bloody fault, ”a wise man once told me.
Grabbing my gun and leaving my camera in the truck, I decided to hunt / hike through the tall evergreens. Leaving the camera was a mistake. The chipmunks collected grass seeds until the storage pockets in their mouths were full, while the pine squirrels gathered pine cones high in the trees. I ran into a doe mule deer, legal for me to harvest, but let it pass while her two fawns were having their lunch.
I wanted to spend the last few minutes of daylight watching the deer and elk move to their evening feeding grounds, so I parked at the intersection again. The elk started roaring again, but only one bull knocked his cows down in front of me and 17 deer came out to give him “his room for the night.” As the gathering clouds of a foretold storm rolled in, I thought about the successful day I had enjoyed and walked home a satisfied man.