A GOOD ARRANGEMENT

As the man on the ridge watched, the herd of elk below suddenly broke and pounded across the icy stream toward the cover of the trees. Three wolves, two grays and a black, chased after them, then slowed and sat, watching them go. A young bull elk with a limp had lagged behind the herd, and the wolves appeared to be studying him. A raven cawed overhead.

The man smiled. The wolves had identified his target for him. He reached to lift the bow from his back.  It was a good arrangement, he mused as he slipped down from the ridge and began circling to get downwind of the straggling bull. When he had finished with the elk, the wolves and ravens would attack the remains. “We will all eat well tonight,” he murmured. Which was good, because the elk herd would move more swiftly tomorrow, without the lagging one to slow them.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

HUNTING

They badly needed the meat. Stanley had borrowed a rifle and used store credit for the ammo, but they’d had to pay cash for the license fees, and Carolyn wasn’t happy.

He studied the landscape. Not an elk in sight. He sat down on a nearby log and pondered his situation. This move had been a mistake. There was no work and they were getting deeper in debt. He’d been a fool. You couldn’t eat a Ponderosa forest or a clear mountain stream.

But the forested hillsides were green, the air scented with pine, the sun warm on his shoulders. Stanley took a deep breath and just sat, soaking it in. “It’s going to have to last me a long time,” he thought ruefully.

There was a slight rustle in the clearing below, then a six-point bull elk stepped into the open. Slowly, carefully, Stanley raised the rifle and sighted.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Damn Pup

“Where’d that damn pup get to now?” Old Pete muttered as he and the mule reached the rocky outcropping that overlooked the southern part of the valley. He could see through the ponderosa into a good stretch of grassland below, but there was no evidence of the curly-haired black Indian dog. Pete shook his head in disgust, jammed his rabbit-fur hat farther down on his head, and snapped the mule’s lead rope impatiently.

At least the mule didn’t need voice direction. Which was more than could be said for the dog, but Pete wasn’t callin’ the damn thing, no matter how aggravated he might feel. There’d likely be Jicarilla Apaches roamin’ the valley for elk, and Pete was taking no chance of being found before he wanted to be. The dog could go to hell, for all he cared. He grunted irritably as he worked his way down the hillside. Idiot pup.

He paused at the tree line, getting his bearings, the air crisp on his face. A light snow powdered the ground. A good-sized elk herd was bunched on the hillside to his left. He squinted. They seemed a mite restless. Then he saw the wolves, eight or nine of them waiting downwind while two big ones trotted the herd’s perimeter, checking for weakness.

Then he caught the sound of a low whine emanating from the prickly ground-hugging branches of a nearby juniper. As Pete watched, the black pup eased from the tree’s grip and came to crouch at his feet, tail between its legs. It looked anxiously toward the elk and whined again.

“Not as dumb as I took ya fer,” Old Pete said, readjusting his hat.

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Reprieve

“Please don’t shoot him, Papa.”

Gerald lowered the gun and looked down at the boy. “Coyote’ve been nipping at the elk all spring and they left tracks by that half-eaten calf up the hill.”

Andrew shook his head. “He didn’t kill that calf, Papa.”

Gerald frowned. “You know that for a fact?”

Andrew hesitated, then nodded. “I’ve been watching him. He lets me get mighty close. He’s not as skittish as the others.”

“You’ve been following that coyote around?”

The boy scuffed the muddy ground with his boot. “I was curious.” He lifted his head. “The calf was dead when he ate off it.”

Gerald shook his head. “You are something else,” he said. He scanned the valley. The coyote was still visible. It trotted purposefully across the far side of the grassy slope beyond the meandering creek. “We’d best head back,” he said. “They’ll be waiting dinner on us.”

from Moreno Valley Sketches