The muley’s trail switchbacked up the valley as he browsed. Tim remained under cover as he followed so he could not be seen from above. He knew that a mule deer will browse for an hour or so as the day begins, then lie down looking downslope. This gives the deer the advantage of rising winds moving up the canyons in the morning. Tim could do nothing to disguise his scent, but he could stay out of sight.
From time to time, Tim could see freshly nipped branches of serviceberry and manzanita. Then he came upon a peculiar sign. The deer had torn up a large patch of snow and it was visibly yellow from his urine. A nearby willow was bruised and its bark was torn loose near the ground.
The deer was going into rut despite his wound! Tim would never have believed it. Perhaps this would make him careless. Certainly it would make him dangerous. A muley in rut with freshly sharpened antlers will not hesitate to attack
* * *
In another part of the mountains, the black bear was leaving the foothills. His nose had begun to heal, but his sense of smell was mostly gone. His eye where the buckshot had lodged was swelling and the infection was spreading. He could not hunt properly with only his weak eyes to guide him. He was hungry and angry, and he was heading for the section of the mountains where Tim was lost.
* * *
Eventually, Tim decided that he had followed the deer’s tracks far enough. By now, it should have gone to earth, so he worked his way up the side of the valley and continued upslope parallel to the muley’s trail. After half a mile he dropped down into the valley again to check and, sure enough, the tracks were gone.
If his reasoning was correct, the deer was below him now, so he began a slow downslope stalk into the wind. The trees grew closer together here, and that made it hard for him to see.
The clouds were a boiling sea of gray and charcoal hanging just above the treetops. It was nearing noon, but the day just grew colder. Tim leaned against the bole of a mountain hemlock to rest his aching ankle and consider his next move. As long as he stayed still and upright, he would probably remain unseen against the trees, but he would have to look carefully before he made each move.
He moved diagonally to the right and stopped again against the bole of a lodgepole pine. He stood there with only his eyes moving for a long time, looking particularly at a likely clump of bitter cherry. Then he moved again, going about twenty feet and stopping.
He worked his way along for two hours, moving briefly and standing long to search with his eyes. The cold was getting to him, but he tried to ignore it. Eventually, he came to an opening in the trees, almost a meadow, but with a scattering of Jeffrey pines and low bushes of manzanita and whitethorn – just the kind of resting spot his father had taught him to look for.
Tim settled back against a pine and slid down so that he was hidden by a light screen of gooseberry. He scanned the area. It took almost ten minutes before Tim’s eyes could separate the deer from its cover. The deer had chosen a spot commanding a view of his trail. If Tim had blundered along following his tracks, the deer would have been long gone. more tomorrow