It had been a few months since my hunting season had ended and I was going stir crazy sitting in my house watching the snow fall. I decided it was time to get in shape for the upcoming elk season and the best way to do that was shed hunting! There are a lot of people who think shed hunting is about going to a hay field and walking around looking for sheds. That’s definitely not how it is when you go looking for elk sheds around here. It’s rugged elk country and is definitely a good work out to get yourself ready for elk hunting!
I had not gone elk hunting solo yet and now that I had killed my first deer while solo hunting, I figured it was time to push myself outside of my comfort level again and try elk hunting alone. What better way to prepare for that than to shed hunt solo? Just the thought made me a little uneasy. There was so much that could go wrong and I had never seen another person while I was out shed hunting before so I probably wouldn’t see one now. I kept thinking about all the ‘what ifs’. What if I fell and got hurt? Which really isn’t out of the ordinary for me, I am probably one of the clumsiest people in the world and am constantly getting hurt. What if I come across a mountain lion, bear or wolf? For some reason I have always had this irrational fear that I was going to get attacked by one of those animals. That’s part of the main reason I had never done a whole lot by myself in the Mountains.
I always took comfort in knowing I was with someone that could hopefully defend me against any animal we may come across. Now that I was alone, that comfort was gone. Since I had started doing solo stuff, I had decided one thing I did need to have was some sort of protection other than just bear spray. (Funny side note: When I was a kid, I accidentally sprayed bear spray in the downstairs of our house thinking it was air freshener. Sorry Mom!) I decided to get myself a .41 mag. It was big enough to stop any mountain lion or black bear that may come my way, yet not so big that I would end up having it kick back in my face.
After going out a few times by myself, I finally started to feel like I was getting the hang of it. I wasn’t quite as nervous but still had an uneasy feeling at times when I would get real far deep into a canyon. There’s something tranquil about being deep in the wilderness by yourself, but the quiet can also be almost deafening. One thing I learned about elk shed hunting was the elk like to get deep into canyons. My normal rule of thumb is to not look for sheds in places you don’t want to walk. It never fails for me, I will get to the top of a canyon that looks like it goes all the way down to the center of the Earth and just happen to glass down there and there one will be. It doesn’t matter if a horn is white or brown, for some reason it gets my adrenaline going and the spoiled little girl comes out in me and I want it!
I start out at the top of the canyon thinking, what kind of stupid animal would want to go all the way down there? Then once I get down there and get the shed strapped to my pack, I look back up at the top and think, what kind of stupid person would walk all the way down here for a shed? Oh yeah, that’s me. I’m still wondering if it’s stupidity or just obsession. I like to say obsession because it makes me sound a little less crazy, but sometimes I still wonder…
So far, the shed season had gone off without incident. I felt great, I was getting into shape, my shed pile was starting to really pile up and I was dang proud of myself. Then came the day that I will never forget. I was just coming up out of a draw, it was starting to get dark which is much later than I usually like to be walking back to my vehicle. It was the end of Spring with crystal clear dark blue skies and the smell of fresh wild flowers. There wasn’t much snow left on the ground and the mule deer and elk had all shed their horns. I sat down on a rock and began to glass around the hill in front of me. As I was glassing, I saw movement. I quickly went back to the place where I had seen the movement and as I zeroed in on the reason felt the color drain out of my face.
I put my binos down and looking directly at a mountain lion. He stared at me and I stared at him. I felt like he was staring deep into my soul. So many thoughts started racing through my head and I felt my heart rate increasing substantially. It was at that moment that I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do. Was I not supposed to look into his eyes? Was I supposed to walk slowly away? Stay still? I tried to not look him in the eyes but I felt like a statue and was naturally drawn to his eyes. It was like I was looking for some sort of answer from him.
Finally, after an eternity of this stare down, my instincts took over. I slowly reached around and got my pistol off my hip and I started slowly backing away from him. We were still locked on each others eyes. It was only by the grace of God that I made it walking up that hill backwards, without tripping. I got to the top and knew that my vehicle was only a couple hundred yards away. I was still walking backwards, I could no longer see the lion and I didn’t know what he was doing or where he was. Which was almost a worse feeling than staring him down. I continued on slowly until I reached my vehicle. I jumped in with my pack and everything still on. I exhaled and felt like I had been holding my breath the whole time. One of my worst fears had just happened and even though I wasn’t attacked, it really shook me up. I wasn’t sure if I was really cut out for all of this, maybe I had pushed myself too far.
That was the last time I shed hunted alone that year. Now I was sitting with my elk tag in my hand and had a decision to make. Do I let my fear hold me back and waste the tag that I had? Or suck it up and just go for it? After weighing everything out, I realized there was no way I could miss out on elk hunting in the limited draw area I had drawn. I decided to go for it. Little did I know, I would have to draw my gun again, on something much bigger than a mountain lion and I would actually have to shoot.
For more please go to: Jennifer Bickel
Mountain lion images courtesy: http://www.hdesktops.com/