Arthur C Clarke once said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Had he been an elk hunter he’d have known that no technology, advanced or otherwise, knows the half of it. There is nothing so magical as elk apparating from the pre-dawn grayness. With a naked eye or through German glass, the trick is the same and equally incredible… first there are only park and cold, timber and wind, meadow and loneliness and then, inexplicably, there are elk.
I was nestled alone in the snow below a high rib of limestone last October, when a band of cows and calves took shape from the gloom. At 400 or 500 yards I could keep the group in sight but the individual elk disappeared and reappeared, without ever seeming to move, like so many twinkling Christmas lights. I crept closer and reestablished my rest. With dawn and proximity the Elk became less ethereal, if not altogether reliable. Taking inventory and trying to intuit the group’s distribution over the half-seen terrain, I could now see motion – a head lowered here, a few gliding steps there. Minute by minute the elk became more real, and with their tangibility grew my confidence that the cows and calves were alone, that they had no escort. Then he was there, and with a grunt and a cough and wide swing of his antlers he was gone again, chasing his harem off the ridge, a second trick completed before I could marvel at his first.
Then the ventriloquism. I followed his voice for hours, close enough at times to taste a dank musk in the back of my throat and hear the labored rasps that followed his bugles. But I never laid eyes on him again. When, in late afternoon, the cows filed from a line of broken timber a young raghorn followed them out. With the lead cow nearly on top of me, and the window of opportunity closing fast, I convinced myself that it was this bull I’d been talking to all day, not the big patriarch, and knowing that opportunities are few and fleeting, I took him. The magician let me know I was mistaken, 30 seconds later, with another bugle.
Though less captivating, there is a certain mystery in the elk license lottery too. I didn’t draw my first choice this year. That means I’ll be reappearing in that shifty old guy’s neighborhood again real soon.