Don’t Rush the Fat Lady

“Elk grazing the meadow at dusk,” stage-whispered Steven just before our trail emerged from the timber. “Just like Grandpa taught me!”

He wasn’t exactly joking, but he wasn’t calling his shot either. Mostly, the remark was a good-natured, gallows-humor response to long, fruitless, hours afoot in challenging terrain — an attempt at brushing away the dark cloud of what-ifs and shoulda-couldas that had begun to threaten our frozen march back to camp. Mostly, but not entirely…

Because five strides farther and the upper-meadow came into full view, complete with its lone grazing cow. It’s a miracle she didn’t spook at the flash of our shit-eating grins.

“Doubt she’s alone,” whispered Alan, giving voice to our new-found collective focus, and the shared belief that genuinely solo cow elk are far rarer than the common variety (seemingly solitary cow elk surrounded by invisible companions). We settled in to watch for the next appearance.

We glassed the treelines, scrutinized the shrubbery and examined every dip and swell of the park, but as the last of the comfortable shooting light dissolved, she remained a party of one.

“But a helluva a call right?” said Steven, high on the close-encounter and no longer bothering to keep his voice down as we strode, exposed, through the open.

“Seriously! Too bad she was …”

The body is quicker than the mind in certain situations. If you lay a hand on a hot stove, for example, your arm will remove it before your brain has even felt the pain. Or, hypothetically speaking, if 700 pounds of muscle, antler and churning hooves erupts from the tall grass you were about to stroll into, you may drop to a knee and shoulder your rifle, green plastic army man style, mid-sentence.

At least I assume that’s how I arrived in that position with Steven, crouched next to me, whisper- yelling in my ear “Bull. Bull. It’s a bull.”

The elk crossed our path at a full sprint, digging like a greyhound for the opposite treeline. There was just enough light left in the witching hour to make out the clenching of his shoulders, back and rump through the scope. And then he was gone. The vibration of his hoof-beats resonated through the ground a second longer.

“Holy shit”, I said when my breath returned.

“Wow…. Why didn’t you shoot him?” asked Steven with a chuckle.

“Yeah… not really the shot I’m looking for.”

“Whatever. Your loss. For the record, though, Grandpa woulda dropped him.”

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