I struggled to control my breathing as I walked up the trail.
I swung my Nikon out in front of me like it was an M16, scanning each shape and movement before moving my other foot forward. My ears analyzed every sound. My senses were working at 100 percent capacity and it sent a warm sensation of excitement through my entire body. This was an old familiar feeling, I’ve cherished it many times before either with a camera in my hands, hunting, or while in the Army. It felt like I was right where I needed to be.
The tall grasses on both sides of me were the perfect place to get ambushed by a bear, they were even the right color to hide a young grizzly’s blond coat. My imagination was running wild in hopes that I would see something, anything…this year’s dreadful lack of adventure has taken its toll on the common sense part of my brain that is responsible for simple calculations like “bears have claws,” “you have fingernails,” “claws + fingernails = dead vagabond.”
Suddenly, there was a snap, a flash of movement, and two dark eyes staring at me from just meters down the trail…
With all the bear thoughts (and wishes) in my head, it took me a couple of seconds to realize that I wasn’t going to die a messy death. That is, unless the thing staring at me could kill with cuteness or something. A very young antelope had walked out on the trail and was as surprised to see me as I was to see it. We stood there in silence for a few seconds until it finally gave me a look as if “I’m not sure what you are, but either eat me or take a picture, I can’t stand here all day!”
Granted, this wasn’t exactly the fearsome display of claws and teeth that I was hoping for. In fact, this thing was so cute and harmless that it would have made Bambi vomit. But…any wildlife encounter is exciting and I snapped some pictures before she calmly walked away.
As I turned to head back down the trail, a deep throaty grunt nearly made me drop my camera. I might as well have been in some B-horror movie cliche when the investigated noise turns out to be a cat, the victim drops their guard and turns to be face to face with the actual monster.
I heard some crashing of branches and another grunt just out of eyesight. Either Bambi had finally freaked out and decided to come get me or there was something with way more testosterone just on the other side of the tall grass. Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I pushed through the weeds and spotted a bull antelope who obviously knew that I was there. He was staring into my eyes, stomping his hooves heavily on the ground, and breaking branches off a nearby dead tree with his impressive antlers.
This thing was really pissed off that I was so close, and rather than run away like deer in Kentucky, it was putting on a violent display of strength and sexual frustration. This time of year is “the rut” aka…mating season, so some animals have more bravado than brains – which makes them dangerous. I guess if you could only get it on once a year you would be stomping your feet and breaking things too!
I got some pictures and swiftly walked back the way that I came. I don’t think he would have advanced, but then again getting an antler up my bottom didn’t sound to appealing either. This was my first real day on the ground in South Dakota and I love it already. Not bad…not bad.