By Andrew Wilson
The easy bucks had been all shot up. So, I went into the high country, away from the roads. The day was clear and perfect. Everything sparkled. The weight of my pack and rifle felt good; hunting 13 days in a row put me in shape, and I hiked easily.
Near the peak, a game trail took me through buck brush and banks of granite, then dropped into a broad saddle full of green vegetation. In the middle, a doe was browsing. First, I brought my rifle up for a look, then thought better of it and sidestepped to a nearby boulder. Careful not to disturb any rocks, I moved softly around the other side, peeked, quickly drew back, and slowly looked again. There the doe was, 100 yards away.
Then I noticed the buck; his antlers jerked as he snatched at leaves. It was a peaceful alpine scene, Jeffrey pine swaying in the breeze, dramatic rock formations above. I reflected that I had never seen such a perfect moment deer hunting. It was almost too good to be true, and I felt pity for those suckers down in the city, stuck on the freeway. They would never feel this moment.
Using my hat as padding against the coarse granite, I set my rifle and looked through the scope. The buck was methodically munching leaves. My finger dropped down to the trigger—
“Andrew!” Ashley touched my shoulder. “You’re zoning out; should I drive?”
“Of course not. I was just thinking about hunting; I’m fine,” I answered, then double-checked the GPS. Ashley looked at her daughters in the back seat, “Are you two hungry?” she asked. One was asleep, and the other was on her phone.
“Maybe we should stop,” Ashley suggested.
“We just ate; can’t we make it? I’d hate to spend money on food right now,” I responded and changed to a faster lane.
“Are you sure? It’ll be a while until we get there. We should get something healthy to eat; we’ve been eating junk,” Ashley said, looking through her phone.
“Everything is junk on the road, but now I’m getting hungry. I wasn’t thinking about it before,” I said, checking my mirrors.
Sitting on the ground, I watched the meat ripple in waves as the fresh-cut muscles spasmed. It was sunny but not hot. There were no flies, no rush, the breeze was cool, and seeing all the quarters laid out felt good. Everything was perfect except that the buck died poorly; the shot went in his spine. Next time, it’ll go prettier. Better to not think too much and just sit and enjoy the moment. There were people in the city stuck in traffic, and I was here at 8,000 feet, feeling satisfied and breathing the fresh mountain air.
“We’re just sitting here. Why is there traffic? We’re going to be late,” Ashley tensely remarked.
“We probably shouldn’t have stopped. Why does everything have to be a rush? When you need traffic to move, it never does. The 91 is bullshit,” I declared.
“At least we’re together.” Ashley answered.
“Yeah, that’s true. This is important.” I agreed. The car in front stopped, and my eyes drifted. Through radiating heat waves, I could see the mountains. They were barely visible on the horizon beyond the long line of cars. A few peaks had snow, and they glinted through the smog. “What do you think the mountains are like right now?” I mused out loud.
Before lashing the head to the outside of my pack, I tucked the buck’s tongue back in his mouth. I hated to leave it like that. It had been a good long hunt, and I got my buck a long way from the road in the backcountry. With the quarters strapped in nicely and the antlers protruding from the top, the pack looked tidy. Everything felt authentic—the way it should feel. Shouldering the load, I took in the view. A long ribbon of ridge line spooled westward and downward. Beyond, much further and through the haze, a gray smudge of urban sprawl. An ugly smear that represented millions of people, all hurrying to be somewhere. It made me question why I should hike down. What if I never came down?