I used to think that animals poofed into and puffed out of existence. For a moment they were in front of you, and then they were gone. Deer and other stealthy animals were of the heavens, they were celestial apparitions. The Celestial Wild Game Master would choose to grant you an encounter with one of his population of celestial deer, which would shortly thereafter cease to exist, and maybe tomorrow the Wild Game Master would grant you another ephemeral physical encounter with another of his celestial foal.
I didn’t actually think this full thought. And I would have answered “Of course not!” had anybody questioned me about the reality of such a model. I knew that a tree still made a noise even if nobody was there to hear it. I knew that animals lived continuous existences. But I did not act like it. In hunting and in everyday encounters, I would catalogue an encounter and make decisions as if each meeting with an animal was a discrete and chance happening. Previous encounters had no bearing on future encounters, as far as that specific animal was concerned. I could be in Boulder, riding my bike or driving to the gym, “Wow! A deer!” The next morning, “Wow! A deer!” The next day, in the evening, “Wow! A deer!” Then I would say and think, “Boy, THE DEERS* sure do like this area.”
*I know it’s not deers. And I know it’s not elks. But, in writing, it can be useful to explicitly specify the plural. And, when I'm talking to strangers in-person, sometimes I like to play the googan - “Yup, it seems like the elks just aren’t doing the bugles this year!”
I've updated my "pagan" model, and now I understand that A SPECIFIC DEER liked that area. You would see it on 9th St, and then 7th St, and then on 10th St. The deer on 9th St wasn’t a deer from the celestial population of deer, and the deer the next morning wasn’t a different animal from the celestial herd making a brief manifestation on the corner of 7th and Iris. It was the same dang deer. It exists continuously. You see it day-after-day. And seeing it is not a random or chance occurrence – if you want to see the deer, you can go and find it.
Here are the brief stories, experienced that revealed and unwound my pagan model of wildlife continuity:
Last year I spotted 3 deer, right at last light, crossing a road and heading into an aspen stand. The next morning I went into those aspens at first light. Guess who was there? Were some deer there? No! Those 3 deer were there! I “put them to bed”, and the next morning I went and found them in the same area. The same 3 deer. It’s not “an area that deer like to hang out”. It’s those 3 deer, continuously existing there, from the time I spotted them in the evening to when I walked over and found them again in the morning.
I think we see the same animals, again and again, more than we imagine. Actually, I’ll speak for myself. Surely most people had and have a more viable mental model for wildlife existence than I did. After that encounter last year, and several more, some of which I will describe below, I think I see the same animals, again and again, more than I imagined.
This year, August 29, I glassed a bull elk cruising to the south along a ridgeline. It was 1+ miles away, so details were difficult to distinguish, but it looked like a "raghorn" (non-mature) bull. That afternoon I camped in the direction he was headed, and I heard bugling. The next day I heard bugling all morning and evening from several bulls. The next day, August 31, archery opening day, I heard a few bugles in the morning, still in the same general vicinity of where the bull was headed on August 29. On the morning of September 1, I shot a bull. It was a raghorn – I am convinced, to a high probability, that the elk I shot on Sunday, September 1 was the same elk I glassed a couple miles away on Thursday, August 29.
Wednesday, September 25, I got into a mess of elk. The wildest encounter yet. I stalked up to 10 yards from two bedded cows and 20 yards to the monster herd bull and the rest of his cows. I chase them around the mountain, cardiovascular system maxed out, for the next 30 minutes, running to get in front of them, calling back and forth to them, cutting them off and forcing them to turn back around, finally losing them as they spilled into another drainage.
The next day, Thursday, September 26, I’m back in the area with three pals. We get into elk. We get into a screaming match with a passionate and powerful bugler of a bull, in the same drainage where I stalked up to elk the day before. Did I encounter a randomly generated selection of a bull and some cows on Wednesday, then on Thursday we were granted another encounter, in the same spot, with a different set of impermanent celestial elk? Hmm, maybe these things do exist continuously…
Tuesday, October 22 I glassed two doe and one buck mule deer across a slick snow-covered gorge. They were about 1200 yards from me, and they walked away over a ridge. There was no good way to get over there, I was wearing sloppy-fitting no-grip boots, I had been cold and wet for days, it was forecast to snow again that evening… I came up with plenty of excuses. I didn’t go over there.
Three days later, Friday, October 25, I put some better boots on and I got over there. I shoot the first buck deer of my life. How incredible, how lucky, that a buck would pop into existence for me to encounter on this particular ridgeline! Jokes. It was the same dang buck that I saw three days previous, and as I’ll relate in a coming post, this was his home range.
Individual animals exist continuously, and I see the same ones, repeatedly, more often than I realized. And, when I understand why and what an animal is doing in a particular area, with a bit of good luck I can actually go over and find it.