It had been a hard climb, two hours up a 60-degree mountain peppered with loose rock, uneven ground and nasty little cuts just the right size for rolling an ankle. I had prepared for it, knowing I had to reach a certain point well before daylight to have a chance, bringing minimal gear but plenty of water and high-calorie snacks. There was a little herd of elk that bedded in a hidden bowl up top, and I wanted to beat them to their beds.
I made it with an hour to spare, got myself tucked into some brush, pulled on a light top to ward off the pre-dawn chill and waited. The moonless sky was peppered with stars so bright they lit up the world and, as the eastern sky started thinking about brightening up, I heard them down the slope. The bugle was faint but unmistakable, causing me to look down at my hands and wonder if the shaking was from the chill, or the anticipation.
Dawn came, and with it the elk — but not just yet. I had time to watch the eastern sky slowly light up, with oranges and reds and yellows, the colors subdued yet vibrant, a kaleidoscope of promise that today would be a good day. I wondered, is this why ungulates move so much at first light, so they, too, will not miss God’s wondrous sunrise? And I thought, as I waited for the elk to appear, even if I am not granted a shot today, I have been blessed with the magic of yet another wilderness sunrise.
Debasish Mridha, a doctor and poet, once wrote: “Each sunrise brings a new day with new hopes for a new beginning.” Is that not true? Even as a young man I was more of a morning guy than a night owl, and so I’ve been watching the sun come up for decades.
As a hunter I have also seen more than my share of wilderness sunsets and, while they too can be spectacular in their beauty, I view them differently. For me, a sunset heralds the close of a day well spent. One can look back at what has been achieved that day with pride, and plan on how he can take care of unfinished business on the morrow. But the sunrise signals the beginning of so many new prospects, a day dawning, full of life, possibilities. The world awakens around you, and if you listen to what it is telling you, you can learn so much about so many things.
These days I am lucky to live within a 10-minute drive of thousands of acres of public land. And so several mornings a week I rise before dawn and drive out to a little spot, set up some archery targets and watch the world wake up as I shoot a few arrows. Most mornings there are coyotes howling and always a covey or two of Gambel’s quail chattering on the roost. I see big jackrabbits and little cottontails, doves darting here and there, cactus wrens and lizards and songbirds flitting about. The sunrise in the southern Arizona desert is as beautiful as any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. It lasts for just a few minutes, but it never fails to calm my soul and help me sort out the coming day.
When the elk arrived they did so as I had hoped, the herd cow following a well-worn trail out of the timber and into the thigh-deep grass. The trail passed no more than 30 yards from where I was hunkered down, the slight breeze favoring me and, together with the morning thermals, carrying my scent away from the elk. The bull was a dandy, a barreled-chested stud with a mane almost black, and thick, dark 5×5 antlers. Only for a moment did I think, “Man, if I shoot this bull it is going to be two miserable days backpacking him off this mountain.” That moment of hesitation passed after 15 cows and calves strolled past and the bull came strutting into range. My broadhead hit him right through the ribs as he was ending a raucous bugle. And before the sun had snuck up over the peaks, he was down.
The next morning I was back on my little spot, waiting for the sunrise. I’d made two trips to the truck the day before and figured if I loaded the bag up and took my time, I could get the rest of the meat and the antlers down in one more trip.
But first I sat and watched the world wake up around me. As the sky began to lighten, I heard birds flitting in the trees, and squirrels chattering. And, yes, another bugle, and then another, and they filled my heart with joy. And as the sun rose in the east, I gave thanks to the good Lord for blessing my success. But most importantly, for blessing me with good health and for being born a free man in America where all are allowed to watch the sun rise every day, and think whatever thoughts we wish and live our lives as we choose.
Does the sunrise also bring you hope? Please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
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