Animal I.Q.

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Two hundred yards north of my office, a failing fence line from the original ranch marks the beginning of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land that runs unimpeded to the next state. Several hundred thousand acres provide habitat for bear, mountain lion, elk, deer, turkey, fox, and only God knows what else. It’s really a wild wonderland out there.

Two months ago, pops of rifles being sited in for hunting season rolled up the small valley I see from my office. The season is tiered, with the most difficult hunts first: black powder (the old muzzleloaders used by those wanting an authentic experience); bow hunting; and lastly, rifle. Concurrent with the pops, vehicles appear along the interstate highway as it crests the pass; hunters scout game and stake territory for their annual adventure.

It’s important to note I don’t know a single hunter in our valley who hunts exclusively for the fun of it. They eat what they harvest. Share it with friends and family. It’s not a mad rush for a nice set (“rack”) of antlers on the wall, but rather a tradition that yields a healthier alternative to meat purchased in our local grocery store. (We won’t go there.) My family doesn’t eat venison (deer), so we don’t hunt it. Fortunately for the elk, which we love, we’re on the wrong side of the valley because they prefer high timber on the nouth-facing slopes that catch most of our summer rain.

But it’s interesting that our yard traffic increases as hunting season escalates. More does and fawns (full of energy because they’re big and strong now) visit. A bachelor party of six young bucks dropped by last week before an unleashed neighborhood dog chased them away. The daily migration of cloven beasts becomes a parade I enjoy when movement catches my eye.

Every once in a while, a truly amazing creature saunters confidently through the meadow. Full of his manly self, ignoring his lessers, I’m convinced these loner bucks know they’re safely on private land. Each one hangs out for a few days until someone bigger pushes him over the ridge into harm’s way.

The blaze-orange dots—hunters—bobbling on the dangerously sloped mountainside two miles north have no idea what’s ten feet outside my dining room window. But the deer and I watch each other for a few minutes before I resume my work, and they finish mowing the last of the summer lawn.

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