Bad Vibes in Paradise
By Marcia Murdock
Even through the binoculars, I could tell Rod wanted off that ridge…Now!
Clearly it was time to get out of here.....
My husband Ron and I have a favorite bow-hunting hideaway I'll call Goat Gulch. Tucked into Colorado high country, the little valley is nearly unknown. There is no road, no trail, no fish and no “fourteener” for peak baggers. With two small lakes and lots for privacy, it is idyllic for watching elk calves and mule deer fawns learn about life and it's the perfect place to hunt untroubled bucks during archery season.
Conditions for stalking are challenging. The breezes swirl around in the glacial bowl at the head of the valley, making approach from any direction a crapshoot. Maybe you can make it before your scent does, maybe not. The thermals often force you to follow circuitous routes to your chosen ambush. Getting close in those conditions provides frustration of many facets, yet the weather that time of year is delicious and it's easy to relax and enjoy the game of pursuit. On a good day you can count more than two-dozen bucks as well as does and fawns, a herd of elk and sometimes mountain goats lounging on the snowfield at the headwall. We secrete our tent in a secluded spot at the mouth of the valley where we can sit and glass the hillsides while coffee brews.
The valley has many moods, some of them impossible to fathom or explain. One evening after Ron and I set up camp, we took off in different directions to hunt. Ron climbed the steep east wall to watch a certain trail that had frequent deer traffic. It's a great little funnel on the ridge spine where several trails from our side converge and several trails from the limber pine forest on the back of the ridge aim the deer and elk into Goat Gulch through a little notch in the rocks. The trail is perfect pinch-point. He's had luck there before, so it seemed a good plan. I took to the will bottoms working my way along the toe of west wall, getting to the downwind end of the breeze. Then I padded my way back down the east side of the valley below Ron's ridge.
I wound my way upwind, down the valley as deer were coming out the meadows below to feed. As I approached them, staying well hidden all was tranquil. It was a quiet evening and the deer fed undisturbed. I closed to about 60 yards, still undetected, watching about 20 deer of both sexes and all ages. Suddenly the northerly breeze shifted, turning into a stout gust pushing westerly off the ridge Ron was hunting. A few minutes later, all the deer – every one in unison – whirled as a unit and fled up the valley in clear panic.
They couldn't have winded me and none had even looked my way. Ron was too far away for them to wind him. Besides, usually when the wind busted us, the deer just drifted off. No other humans were around and I hadn't seen any predators. While I was puzzling over what had caused the deer to panic, I spotted Ron on the spine of the ridge. He was headed down in a hurry. Through my binoculars I could see he was a man with a mission. He wanted off that ridge NOW! Something was definitely wrong and his body language told me it was time to get out of there.
By the time Ron made it up to camp I had the packs reloaded and was folding the tent. “What happened to the tent?” he asked in a strained voice, his hands creeping toward his weapon.
“I'm packing up camp,” I said. “You looked like a man trying to get away from something up there.” He had looked defensive, as if he was being stalked.
As we compared notes, he told me that at about the same time I'd watched the deer bolt; he'd had this overpowering feeling that something sinister or dangerous was very close. The feeling was so strong that he had actually drawn his knife. Whatever it was had shadowed him down the ridge. Now, in camp, it was weaker but still tangible.
I am not particularly superstitious, but weird things happen out there in the wilderness sometimes, things that cannot be explained in normal terms. His story, coupled with the deer's headlong retreat was enough to spook me. I redoubled my speed to finish packing. Dusk was imminent and now neither of us wanted to be in the valley when dark fell. We hustled down the indistinct game trail and as we dropped toward the road, the sensation of threat grew fainter and fainter. Finally, just before full dark, when we could see the forest road, whatever it was left us.
Some things are tough to explain. I had a similar feeling up there once, while I was sheep hunting alone and the only human within miles. I had been camped at tree line for a couple of weeks and was very in tune with the wilderness. I'd had time to get to know the commuting badger and had a nodding acquaintance with a pair of blue grouse. Even the elk had decided I wasn't a threat. A herd simply parted one evening and allowed me to walk through them. I had become part of the landscape and felt really comfortable. Until that one afternoon.
I climbed high and found no sheep. As I sat in the open tundra, studying the country below, I decided to go down into the timber and see if the rams had bedded in the upper bristle cone zone. I had done this several times over the past two weeks but this day something was different. I dripped down toward the trees and the closer I got, the harder something pushed against me. Some psychic barrier stopped me. I didn't know what to make of it, but it felt like a force field. It didn't feel particularly malevolent, but when I got too close to a certain spot, there was a palpable sense of threat. Come no closer! It wasn't like getting too close to a grizzly – suddenly finding a very fresh sign in thick cover – not feeling of mortal risk. It was more like a warning. How strange. It was as if a ram had a guardian that kept him from harm. Maybe that was it: the keeper of the ram was protecting its ward. When I retreated back up the mountain, the feeling left. So I tried again. When I approached the same area again, the force field returned. I cannot explain it in rational terms, but I never got within 100 yards of the trees.
I still have no understanding of what Ron and I experienced that evening, or what I felt on my solo hunt. When we returned to the valley a few weeks later, I delighted once again in its tranquility. The evil was nowhere to be found and the deer had returned to their skillful and relaxed ways of avoiding us.
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