The bear ambled along an old game trail 200 yards upwind from the hunter lying prone and hidden in a tree stand on a rise. It did not appear to be threatening anything, least of all the hunter, who was more interested in the elk herd grazing peacefully another 800 yards further down the trail. But if it were offered, the hunter would take the bear, not that he needed it. He’d shot plenty of bear but found it didn’t bring much. Too many people were shooting bear. Elk, shot exactly right, was finding a better market. All those hunters who go home and want a trophy of the elk they think they shot or thought they were chasing on their annual hunt with their drinking buddies.
The rise gave the hunter a perfect position over an expansive meadow, the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre mountains in the background and sunlight brilliantly illuminating the peaks. The late-summer air was sweet and warm; conditions were perfect, simply perfect, but the clock was ticking. The calendar was rolling. The Earth was spinning. In another 45 minutes, tops, the sun would rise high enough that the mountain peaks would no longer be illuminated in the right way. The hunter needed the elk to be roughly where the bear was.
This was the third day the hunter had arrived at this position before dawn, set up his tripod low to the ground, just above the grass, and attached his Nikon D5600 with the 200-500 f/5.6 lens. He looked now through the viewfinder towards the elk herd – it made for an attractive landscape with the perfect lighting on the mountains in the background, but he just wasn’t close enough for the striking individual portraits he wanted. Besides, he had taken pretty much exactly the same shot the day before, and the day before that. He clicked the shutter a couple times anyway. He scanned to the bear, the tripod rotating the camera smooth as silk. He adjusted the zoom a bit – man, it was perfect. Snap, snap. But the bear wasn’t doing anything but schlepping along with its head down displaying all the enthusiasm of a government employee on a Monday morning. He took his eye from the camera and scanned the meadow; possibly he could establish a blind further up, spend the night there and be better positioned. But better positioned only if the elk returned to the same spot, which was unlikely. No, he thought, this little tree stand is the best spot.
Eye back to the viewfinder, he began scanning the meadow itself, looking for possibilities, moving between the bear and the herd, and held his breath as his camera framed…
Just grass. He eyeballed the far mountains, looked to the series of boulders running towards, if not close, to the meadow; zoomed in maximum, and there he beheld…
Wouldn’t it be cool, he thought, if a creature of some sort came charging out of the boulders towards the elk? Something with creepy orange hair on its head that looked straight from the gates of hell. What a series of shots that would be! He eyeballed the blue sky thinking maybe an eagle or a hawk soaring above. Nope. He remembered a time in the Ozarks he was surprised by a formation of half-a-dozen B52’s out of Whiteman flying at just a few thousand feet that came out of nowhere, likely on a training run. Got some great shots out of that! Man! Man, he thought, scanning the entire horizon, the meadow, everything around him, open to another fantasy. Only reality existed. By now, the good sunlight, its golden morning beams, and the little bit of pink in the sky, was gone. The bear was ambling from view. The elk herd was actually starting to move further away.
Staying low he pulled his gear back into the tree stand until he was better hidden, then picked everything up, tripod and camera on his shoulder like a rifle, and began the trek back to his camp a half mile away. He knew the creek where the bear was likely going; no chance it was coming back towards him. He’d spend the rest of the day shooting wildflowers and birds, mainly just killing time. He had another location scouted closer to the Sierra Madre he wanted to hit, but it also provided a narrower range of targets. Give this one a couple more days, he thought, as his boots swished through the tall, bronze colored grass, thousands of dollars of camera gear pressing down on him. Contemplating deeply on finding the money shot in the golden light.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.