I wouldn’t call it sleeping in, but we didn’t get up as early as the previous day because we didn’t need to rendezvous with Jawn’s dad on this second morning of the hunt. Having successfully filled his tag the day before, Jawn’s dad was doing what any smart man would do on a Sunday when the rain continued to fall: he was not getting up at 3:30AM.
As we drove into the hills above Kendrick we accepted the fact that it was going to be another wet morning, but we hoped that unlike the previous day, it wouldn’t be foggy. And then we ascended into a fog bank so thick that we couldn’t have seen a white fogline on the right side of the road even if there had been one. Jawn moved his foot from the gas pedal to the brakes and we slowed to a crawl, meandering up the twisting road toward the ranch. With our hopes of a fogless morning dashed, we parked and napped for an hour or so as rain pelted the roof of the truck. When the sun came up the sky lightened enough to make out shapes in the dim light of dawn, we pulled on our jackets and faced the inevitable fact that we were going to get wet, again. I knew that my boots, which had dried out overnight, would not resist the moisture for long; my rain pants, ventilated from having waged battle with the rose hips and Idaho Mesquite from the day before, didn’t stand much of a chance as a waterproof barrier.
Suck it up. Proceed. Complain silently.
Not too long into the morning we hiked the ridge above a stand of timber, and in much the same fashion as the day before, Jawn’s eagle eye picked out a heard of elk bedded down in the timber a couple of hundred yards below us. His keen vision picked out a spike bull that I shortly thereafter determined to be a spike bull with a few extra branches: a 5 point…
But first let’s jump ahead a few hours to the drama of afternoon. The rain had subsided and the clouds lifted, making for an overcast but not unpleasant day. Micro, Jawn and I hopped on the quad so that we could cover ground more efficiently as we sought a particularly remote corner of the ranch to scout for elk. There was a very good chance that the remnants of the herd that had scattered earlier in the morning may have high-tailed it to this area. We held out hope for another shot. Another elk. With Micro and Jawn comfortably enjoying the padded seat of the Polaris, yours truly was perched on the front rack, the steel bars of which conflicted with my boney arse as we bounced along a “road” through the woods. I’m not convinced that being seated up front and therefore able to anticipate every bone-jarring bump before we came upon it did me any good or not. I’m thinking ignorance may have been bliss as I acknowledged my fate several times, “This is going to hurt”. It was a relief when we reached our destination and set off on foot. Even on legs weary from having hiked many miles already, walking was a welcome change.
The country surrounding us was thick with brush, and looked like a great hideout for a herd of elk on the lamb. For several hours we walked and stopped. We checked natural watering holes, glassed hillsides, and peered into steep draws that pointed downward toward one thing: that damn river. The Potlach River, named for a Native American ceremonious feast. When the wind silenced itself, one could make out the whisper of the river. It called out to me, tauntingly. What are you doing up there with a rifle, you silly man? I’m sure that Micro and Jawn heard nothing but the voice came to me again. You ought be down here with a fly rod, for I have many fish eager to accept your imitation bugs. I tried to block out the voice and concentrated on looking for elk, but the river was unrelenting and hurled one last insult. You know,there may even be steelhead in my waters. We didn’t see an elk all afternoon, and in fact the ranch seemed strangely devoid of any animal activity save for the raucous celebration of the crows that had found the gut pile from the day before. And a distant voice from below that seemed to be laughing.
Jumping back in time a few hours to the morning. The bull was bedded down with his body at a angle to us such that it didn’t present the perfect shot. No problem, as rarely do game animals present the perfect shot. I took my time and rested the forestock of my rifle on a rock ledge, giving me a nearly perfect, steady rest. Looking through the scope at 9x power, I could count the tines on the bull. He wasn’t any sort of Boone & Crockett record, but I was neither Daniel Boone nor Davey Crockett. I dialed the scope down to 3X and the bull became smaller, but not too small: he was only about 200 yards away. Steelhead. As I lay the cross hairs toward the right side of his body, between his shoulder blades, I took a deep breath. Come ply my waters. I exhaled slowly. There are many naïve trouts for you down here. All tension left my body.Visions of fruitless elk hunts past flashed before me. Not many anglers take the time to fish my waters. I was calm, collected. There would be meat in the freezer this winter, and a handsome rack above the fireplace mantle. I was steady as the rock upon which rested my trusty 7mm Magnum. At the same time my index finger pulled against the trigger, a Potlach River steelhead rolled before my eyes, taking a skated October Caddis before running downstream toward the Clearwater River…
My shot flew an inch too wide to the right. The bull, and the rest of the herd, was gone.
And I finally know what Norman MacLean meant when he wrote, “I am taunted haunted by waters.”