By BHA Development Associate, Grant Alban
With an elk and an antelope in my freezer, the sun began to set on my hunting season. The last two days I did give in to a mildly frantic desperation that had me trying to fill my deer tag – but alas, nothing. Back in my garage that Sunday night, I emptied my hunting pack with some relief. Hunting was over for the year. The thing that I had looked forward to for so long had come and gone – but with it came sleeping in, fewer stops at the gas station and a sense that I gave it my all. For the next two or three weeks I would continue to eat like I was still hiking 8-10 miles a day off-trail (and then it’s the Holidays …and then) but I digress.
Emptying out my pack I noticed gear that I had used several weeks or months ago. Items fell on the concrete that I hadn’t taken the best care of, but I always know they’ll be there next year when I need them.
My binoculars. I really, really like my binoculars. They aren’t the highest quality, nor do they have the most bells and whistles – but they never give me any problems. I actually share them with my wife who is a beginning birder. She keeps them on the sill at our house and picks them up almost daily to verify that the black-capped chickadee she thinks she saw is indeed a black-capped chickadee. However, come fall, she knows that those binos won’t be on the sill. They will be with me, hunting.
I don’t have a bino harness, so I carry them slung over my right shoulder and under my left arm so they don’t bounce on my chest when I walk. Hands down, my best binocular memory occurred this fall. I had just crested a rise in a small park, 1000 feet above and a couple miles from camp. Just in front of me, not 40 yards away, were the backs of two cow elk. Their heads were down or they would’ve easily seen me. I backed away but must have left some scent. They mewed, and moved off slowly.
I had seen this herd two days before. From what I had seen, there were about 20 elk, all cows in the group. Well, as the herd slowly moved off and into a distant park, I scrambled up high and brought my binoculars to my eyes. The herd filtered into the park. Cow. Cow. Cow. Cow. Spike! Cow. This went on as I counted at least 50 animals before the lone legal bull stepped out. A small 5x6 amongst nearly 55 cows and 4 spikes. Heart pounding and mind racing, I put the binos aside.
Back in my garage with the season over, I thought back to the elk herd and how this one item in my pack gave me the ability to detect the only legal animal for what might have been miles. After hanging up my gear, I grabbed my binoculars and took them back inside to be placed on the sill for my wife to use while she identified our local fauna. The binos will spend the next 8 months focused on sapsuckers and spotted towhees, but for just a few brief moments this fall, they got to zoom in on some wild backcountry elk. You’re welcome, binoculars. And thank you.
What's one piece of gear that's essential to your hunt? Tell us about it in the comments section below.