Shed Hunting

4 AM. My eyes are heavy as I sit at the kitchen table waiting for the hum of my friend’s truck. How many more times can I do this? If it weren’t for my buddy picking me up the yearning for sleep might just prevail. We hit the road hours before first light with intentions of milking every minute of daylight to fit the next piece of the puzzle. The drive is a struggle. Caffeine, sunflower seeds, cold air. We do what we can to stay awake and focused on the road.  At 6 AM we leave the comfort and warmth of the truck. The sky is lighter. Dawn is coming. I go one way, my friend another. Now it’s just me and the mountains.
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The learning curve is steep. Snow depth, human pressure, wolves, timing; Factors we’ve strictly analyzed after countless unsuccessful days. The puzzle pieces are slow to fit, but every day we’re in the mountains we’re one step closer to fitting the next.

Everything learned has led to this spot on the mountain; A dark timber, snow-loaded face I’ve overlooked a dozen times. The ingredients are there and anticipation creeps into my mind as I near the zone.

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Boot tracks. My optimism is crushed. Someone got here first. One day too late and I’m left demoralized but even more determined. I hike above the tick-infested slopes and past where logic and reason would suggest. There couldn’t be elk this far back, but I hike for the sake of hiking and getting as far away from humanity as I can. Then, an elk track. And another. Trenches have been worn deep into the snow and it reeks of elk. It’s the next piece of the puzzle, where I least expected it. Out of the clenches of wolves and away from the massive herds of cows, a bachelor group called this place home through the winter months.

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My eyes are wired. Something catches my gaze in the distance. I can’t process it. I’ve imagined what it’d be like to finally find an antler so many times, that I think it’s an illusion. I feel like I’m caught in a cruel dream. As I walk towards it, smiles and laughter take over. I radio my friend to share the moment, the small victory that we’d worked so hard for.

Feelings of fulfillment and respect pour over me. But the beauty is that this hunt never ends. Will and daylight are the only things holding me back. With the antler strapped to my pack, I keep hunting and adding to my knowledge base of shed hunting, the country, and the elk that live in this area. What I find today will shape tomorrow. All that I learn this spring will shape the year-round cycle where I continue my pursuit through the summer scouting months, fall hunting season, and back here again, searching for antlers.

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