The Last Trek?

Maybe You Don’t Belong in These Mountains Anymore

Story and Photos by Mike Cothern

The elk that were scattered across the top of the snow-covered ridge came as no surprise. The hoofed animals had appeared there in the past and on the two occasions I pursued them, the hunts had ended well. What grabbed my attention during last fall’s outing was the size of this latest herd. A quick count put the total at more than fifty, and that was just on the slope facing me. How many more might be hidden on the far side? No wonder I had seen nothing during the previous four hours of hunting—nearly every elk within the entire drainage was probably in that group.

After again looking through binoculars and taking several recounts, I tried to spot them without optics. At well over a mile away and across a deep gulch, they looked like little more than random specks. Much more noticeable and in a direct line beyond the herd’s position, however, rose the tallest peaks of the Pioneers. I appreciated how the view of the animals set against their backdrop fit with my desire for frequenting this landscape during late autumn. The experience has never been just about elk—it’s a big part, no doubt, but it’s also about the mountains, the snow and cold, and often having it all to myself (see IDAHO magazine, “The Pull of the Pioneers,” September 2010).

And while my latest expedition had taken a twist, it had not been the only surprise during my first elk hunt to the area in several years. The initial shock, which set a theme for the day, had occurred during my drive through the early morning dark. Down in the valley near Hailey, a cow and two calves had trotted out of a subdivision and crossed in front of the truck, causing me to brake hard to avoid a collision.

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Mike Cothern

About Mike Cothern

Mike Cothern farmed for two decades before starting a second career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. With more time available to explore wild landscapes, he also began documenting his observations as an outdoor correspondent for southern Idaho’s Times-News, a stint that lasted fifteen years.

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