Icy mountain air kisses my skin and the cold hard ground bites into my hip. I pull my feet up and feel Hawk shift beside me. I roll to my back and exhale a cloud of breath that dances away by the light of the full moon. I am wide awake, staring up at the most awe inspiring sky I have ever seen. Full moon, dropping temperatures and a sparkling milky way – scattered from horizon to horizon. Hawk, sensing that I am awake, reaches out and pulls me closer to warm me, pulling our sleeping bag tighter around us both. “You warm enough?” he mumbles. “Yeah, I’m OK,” I whisper and close my eyes trying to find a few more hours sleep. Daylight will be here soon …
Some may wonder why anyone would put themselves through this, but until you have slept on a mountain side under the dancing aspen leaves and sparkling stars, being serenaded by the call of bull elk in the rut, it would be hard to explain. It is something that must be experienced to truly be appreciated.
Autumn in the Rocky Mountains. A beautiful time, filled with golden leaves and bugling elk. But, also a wide range of temperature changes. Fall is in the air. Warm, sunny t-shirt days, to ice covered creeks at daybreak. Yes, indeed, fall … when the beautiful scenery around you changes and morphs into something even more brilliant and beautiful by the hour.
Morning dawns crisp and cold. As Hawk fires up the propane grill to make a pot of coffee, I try to convince our younger son, Josiah, to leave his warm cocoon of sleeping bags. No fire on this mountain as we are camped at the edge of an elk rutting ground. Open ridges of deep sage surrounded by aspen, deep canyons and scattered wallows hidden amongst stands of lodge pole pine, we try to keep our presence here unknown.
This is Josiah’s first elk hunt, and he has decided he wants to hunt with his long bow. We down a cup of coffee to chase away the chill, grab a handful of breakfast bars and head out as the daylight slowly creeps across the land.
Across the canyon we can hear elk talking. Hawk takes us down a dark timbered ridge, around a large outcrop of rock, and up the other side, keeping the wind in our favor. The tripod from my camera is already biting in to my shoulder, as we move slowly up the draw through deep mountain grass and a stand of whispering aspen. Ahead of me Hawk drops to the ground, and behind him Josiah follows suit, moving almost as one. I too am now on my knees hiding in the tall grass – eyes scanning to locate what Hawk has already seen.
Above us on the ridge, not 50 yards away, I spot antler tips as a mature bull elk slowly climbs the other side of the hill. They sway and bob, moving toward us. He stops and screams out his presence on this mountain. Crouched behind my camera, I slowly switch it on and use the elk’s own noise to mask the noise made by the opening and closing of the shutter, all the while praying that he doesn’t hear. To our right another bull answers the challenge and I can hear nervous cow calls over the ridge just out of our sight. Hawk motions to me that he’s going to take Josiah around and try to move in closer to get a shot, and for me to stay put. As the larger bull comes into view, I switch the setting on my camera to video. With my eye pressed to the viewfinder, I watch as the bull stops at the crest of the hill, tilts his head back and an ancient bugle accompanied by steam from his hot breath rises on the wind. As I press record, I see the low battery light start to blink … my heart skips a beat ….
And I jerk awake, only to find the sky above me black and lit with twinkling stars. Again, Hawk shifts and pulls me closer, he reaches down and wraps his warm hands around my icy toes. “You OK?” he asks again. I snuggle closer.
“Yeah, I am OK.” But, I think to myself – what an understatement. (It is cold tonight; my toes are cold, my nose is cold, and my back aches.) It is uncomfortable sleeping in three shirts and two coats, pants, long underwear and socks. I am tired and I want a bath … and I am starting to wonder what in the world I am doing out here.
When, in the valley to our left a large bull elk screams out a challenge that echoes across the star light night. I hear the soft rustle of sleeping bags as Josiah shifts in his sleep, and I wonder if even in slumber he too heard the call. In my right ear I can hear my husband’s soft breathing as he once again slips into a peaceful sleep. As I myself drift off. I put my hand in my pocket and feel my camera battery. Yeah, I am OK … I am more than OK!
Beautiful scenery and once-in-a-lifetime moments on the hunt cannot be recreated. You need your batteries to stay full charged. Nothing more disappointing than packing all your gear, making it to elk camp, only to wake in the morning to drained batteries miles and often, hours from the closest plug-in. Keeping you batteries warm will help them hold their charges longer. People usually keep an extra battery or two just for their cameras, but if those batteries get cold they will not work properly. Most professional photographers keep an extra pack of hand warmers in their camera bags just for this reason, but if you ever find yourself out in the cold you can just as easily eject the batteries from your camera and put them in your pocket close to your body.
Late one evening, while filming a high country mule deer, my battery started to die. I was able to put it in my pocket with my hand warmer for a few minutes and get a little more use out of it. Another great option available on the market is one of the off grid solar backpacks or roll up panels by Green Energy Solutions. Small, portable, convenient, dependable and much easier to carry in your pack than heavy extra batteries.
Visit Stacey Huston online at A Focus in the Wild.