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Though I didn’t get any deer on the first day of the season, I was still satisfied with the spectacle of wildlife

Living the Wild Life

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After parking high on a Unit 60 ridge top in Island Park two hours before daylight, I rolled down my window to listen to the early mountain sounds. A pack of coyotes started howling from nearby Crystal Butte while another pack tried answering them from the Davis Lakes area. A few domestic cattle were bellowing with some calves crying for their mothers to feed them.

Wrapped in my winter coat, I partially rolled up my window to keep some of the 26-degree chill out of the truck on the opening day, October 5, of my early deer hunt. Warm enough to doze off, I was rudely awakened by a bugle from bull elk that sounded like he was almost in my truck. He was answered by another bull from a nearby grove of quaking aspen.

“Dang,” I thought.

It appeared the elk had been pushed out of the thick forest and onto the desert by the recent archery hunt and had probably pushed out the deer. I had parked near a major cross-road trail that migrating big game animals have 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 ghost-like shadows of elk feeding at the edge of some aspen and a lone pine tree. Four bulls, each with their own harem of cows, were challenging each other as I put my weapon away and grabbed my camera.

After watching and photographing the elk, a lone rifle shot from a hunter down in the flats, stopped the bugling and the elk quickly moved into a large grove of aspens surrounded by thick buckbrush. A lone rag-horn bull, silently followed about a quarter of a mile behind the last herd as they hid from marauding deer and moose hunters.

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A cowboy looking for cattle to move out before the snow hits. | Bill Schiess,

It was the first of a series of enjoyed successes of a shot-less day of hunting deer. Oh, I saw plenty of deer but they were too far away or not convenient for my 76-year-old legs to drag one out. While visiting with a real cowboy gathering up 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 to come up and enjoy more days like this!”

I thought of that comment throughout the day as I watched Northern harriers and Red-tailed hawks hunting the grassy areas between the thick brush. The Mountain bluebird, Idaho’s state bird, are gathering in large flocks getting ready to migrate south. In the 70-degree warmth, grasshoppers and butterflies are still active, producing some nice lunch for them as they attacked the insects from the mountain fence posts.

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A Mountain bluebird, one of hundreds gathering to migrate south. | Bill Schiess,
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A Gray jay, commonly called a “Camp Robber.” | Bill Schiess,

Speaking of lunch, I didn’t even have to eat alone. While relaxing in my gravity chair, watching a couple of ridges and eating my lunch, three Gray jays, commonly called “camp robbers,” visited me and begged for a few crumbs from my sandwich.

“If you don’t enjoy a day like this; it is your own darn fault,” a wise man once told me.

Grabbing my rifle and leaving my camera in the truck, I decided to hunt/hike through the tall evergreens. Leaving the camera was a mistake. Chipmunks were gathering grass seeds until the storage pockets in their mouths were full, while pine squirrels were harvesting pinecones high in the trees. I came upon a doe mule deer, legal for me to harvest, but I passed her up as her two fawns got their lunch.

I wanted to spend the last few minutes of daylight watching deer and elk moving to their evening feeding areas so I parked at the cross-roads trail once again. The elk began bugling again, but only one bull brought his cows down past me and 17 deer moved out to give him “his room for the night.” As the gathering clouds of a predicted storm rolled in, I thought of the successful day I had enjoyed and headed home a satisfied man.

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The quaking aspen are very colorful contrasts with the background of the evergreens. | Bill Schiess,