The dancing of aspen

Pictured is Hunter Randy Sachau with his trophy bull. Courtesy photo

OPINION —  Stumped.

My limited vocabulary failed at describing the lyrical beauty.  

In the middle of an elk hunt with pressure mounting to provide a stellar outdoor experience for my client, I was being continually distracted by the performance art of the Aspen.

The golden leaves drifted down on the breeze and danced between the branches and my eyes would be distracted from the bugling bulls that needed only to charge out of their spruce thickets to put our hunt to rest.

When the wind turned after 15 minutes of intense debate between the latest herd sire and my hunter,

I wasn’t as disappointed as I should have been.

The dancing and singing of the trees had cast a spell.

Unit one is the northern most elk hunting unit of the Black Hills.

While it the smallest in size, it has consistently produced some of the largest bulls to be found in the record books.

Hunter success hovers near national highs of 60% on animals over four years old and the Game and Fish has stated that they wish to make it even more successful.

Without doubt, it is one of the finest destinations in the world for a hunter to harvest a trophy.

The success of the herd is based on several factors including outstanding landowner tolerance, wise stewardship by respected game wardens, relative distance from development, and a serendipity of natural disasters that have converged to turned the region into a wildlife mecca.

Tornados and pine beetles have teamed up with the timber industry to open up the forest canopy.

Working in the region more than forty years ago, pine trees dominated the landscape and pockets of aspen were rare.

Today the aspen are surging back and grasses and browse are so abundant that the region can expect to see regular visitations by the occasional moose and resident black bear.

While the drought has dried up many of the ponds, there are still abundant springs and developed tanks managed by the forest service to provide water.

As the archery season drew to a close, rifle hunters gave much of their attention to these sites.

One group of hunters from Pierre had only two licenses but brought out eight hunters to help with scouting and the heavy lifting associated with hundreds of pounds of meat.

Having that many eyes enabled them to spread out and watch many tanks.  

Come opening morning they had narrowed their attention to the area devastated by the tornados.

Logging companies have removed much of the salvageable timber and the opening is now a magnet for elk.

For more than a decade, the herd has migrated away from our region each winter to seek better grazing in areas where fire has burned away trees to the south.

In the future, many more will be able to stay and find all that they need in the Northern Hills.

The rifle season opened Friday and by that night, nearly a quarter of the hunters with licenses had already filled their tags.

What had seemed like a packed crowd, had already gathered their camps and were racing back across the state to their local butchers by Saturday afternoon.

First-time elk hunter Randy Sachau has lived in the region his entire life but hadn’t spent much time in the higher elevations.

I had taught his son Aaron and neither had ever heard a bugling bull in person until this hunt.

We saw elk each time we ventured into the wood but were fortunate to have our hunt extended by fickle winds, and other hunters who managed to slip in ahead of us to likely spots.

By Saturday morning, much of the competition had left the field and we had the area to ourselves if you discounted the endless parade of side-by-sides and four-wheelers out to enjoy the views.

The morning held incredible excitement with elk screaming in several areas from the moment that we left our trucks.

Although we gave it our best shot, our first stalk of the day left us empty handed and rather than return to town, we decided to make camp near a secluded pond.

We took turns awaiting the inevitable visit of elk by napping and taking pictures of the extraordinary scenery.

We spent the day sleeping in the woods while listening to the gentle rain of aspen leaves, like music designed by God to refresh your spirit.

Later that evening we were rewarded by a bull coming to our calls and when he gave us the slip, we were able to intercept him after a game of cat and mouse through the forest, ending up at the spot we had staked out much of the day.

Feeling exhausted, successful, and humbled we all felt blessed to have shared a few days listening to the trees and bringing home a trophy to help us remember the sounds, and solace of the mountain glades.

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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