October the tourists are gone from thernYellowstone and have been replaced byrnflocks of waterfowl without number,rnblackening the glassy surface of YellowstonernLake. Trout feed ravenously beforernwinter, and the fishing is superb. Arndozen years ago my wife and I, hurryingrnto make Rock Creek near Philipsburg,rnMontana, for the night, called it quits atrnHebgen Lake on the Madison Riverrnaround nine o’clock and followed a jeeprntrack away from the highway into a timberedrngulch. We pitched the tent in therndarkness at the edge of a small clearing,rncrawled in, and fell immediately asleep.rnAt a little past two in the morning I wasrnwakened by the sound of padding feetrnaround the tent; clockwise, counter-,rnthen clockwise again. I reached for thern.41 Magnum hoglegby my side and quietlyrnwoke Norma. “What is it?” “Wernhave a bear in camp.” “Are you sure itrnwasn’t me snoring?” “That’s what Irnthought. It’s not you. Listen.” We listenedrntogether, Norma still on her backrnin her bag, I sitting upright as the bearrncontinued to investigate us. After a timernwe heard him no more, and I fell asleeprnwith the gun on my chest. In the light ofrnmorning, we discovered that we hadrnraised the tent beside a well-used gamerntrail going down to the creek a quarter ofrna mile away.rnOn Rock Creek, casting a Number 6rnBitch Creek Nymph from a NumberrnEight fly rod, I caught five fat and shiningrntrout from 18 to 22 inches long betweenrnsix and six-thirty on a singlernevening while watching a black sow bearrneat berries as her two cubs played alongrna log on the opposite bank of the stream.rnI released all but the best two, disassembledrnthe rod, and drove back to camp onrnthe trail above the water’s edge in therngathering darkness from which a brightnessrnappeared, like that of a distant cityrnin flames. Reaching camp a half-milernfarther on, I found it spectaculady illuminatedrnby a tremendous bonfire ofrnresinous stumps and logs that Normarnhad built for a bear fire, not trusting tornthe .41 I had left with her. Late in thernafternoon she had witnessed two morernbears scrambling along the talus slope onrnour side of the river, and decided on thernfire as the more reliable form of protection.rnBut western Montana, despite its greatrnand still largely unspoiled beauty, is arndisquieting place. Thomas McGuane,rnthe novelist, has his talent, his money,rnhis cutting horses, and his lovely wife:rnwhy does he need also his cretinous andrnsybaritic Hollywood friends, to whom hernhas sold property in the neighborhood ofrnhis ranch in McCloud ? Today, you canrnsaunter down the main street of BigrnTimber and see Whoopee Goldbergrnjump on her horse and gallop off to arrestrna gang of white supremacists holed up inrnthe mountains nearby. Not far away,rnTed Turner and Jane Fonda have boughtrna ranch, torn down the previous owner’srnbarbed-wire fence (made by the bloodyrnsweat of his brow), and overrun firstraterncattle range with a herd of woolly,rnpig-eyed, motheaten, and brucellosisinfectedrnbison. And the once simplernand pleasant town of Missoula is a polyglotrnmess now, filled with hippies, yuppies,rnenvironmentalist groupies, secondhomernowners, professors, and students;rnthe lovely Bitterroot Valley subdividedrnalmost as far as the pass.rnWe of Kemmerer, Wyoming, shouldrnfeel slighted: the Californians love usrnnot for ourselves, nor for our sagebrushand-rnbentonite scenery, but for the usuallyrnthriving deer population in the surroundingrndesert hills. By late Septemberrnthey have begun to arrive in Winnebagosrntowing jeeps and ATV’s chained tornflatbed trailers. Those that do not camprnin the hills do so in town, bleeding outrntheir kill in the bathtubs in their motelrnrooms. Last fall we saw very few ofrnthem, word of the crash of the southwesternrnWyoming deer population apparendyrnhaving reached Greater Los Angeles.rnThose that did come got here inrntime to experience the conclusion of therndrought, which broke at last on the firstrnday of October with torrential rains, sixrninches of snow in the high country, andrna foot of mud in the roadbeds.rnFour seasons ago, encouraged by thernfine Indian Summer afternoon and optimisticrnweather forecasts, I overrode myrnbetter judgment and parked the truckrnand horse trailer at Fontenelle Crossingrnrather than drive the six miles on to therngravel road at La Barge Creek. The rainrndirectly followed the morning hunt thernnext day and continued until dark. Thernmorning after broke clear and warm withrna springtime softness in the air, the kindrnof weather that makes experiencedrnhunters nervous. My partner was expectedrnat work at two o’clock in Kemmerer.rnWe struck camp, loaded thernhorses, and had ridden out a quarter ofrnan hour when the snow began to fall.rnAt the crossing it was raining, the road arnmorass. We unloaded the gear into therntruck bed, uncoupled the trailer, fordedrnthe creek on horseback, and rode on tornKovaches’ camp, where they agreed tornkeep the horses through the week if necessary;rnone of the sons took us by jeeprnback to the truck. When I had driven arnfew hundred yards, it became obviousrnthat four-wheel drive alone was not goingrnto get the job done; we climbedrndown into the cold mud and lay on ourrnbacks in it, adjusting and hooking therntire chains around all four tires. Then werndrove on at ten and fifteen miles an hourrntoward town, forty-five miles away.rnSome years before another huntingrnparty, driven out of the mountains byrnstorm, found the same road covered byrntwo and a half feet of snow. They tookrnturns digging ahead of themselves withrnshovels, then butting the cut with thernlead truck to further their progress. Inrnthis way, the convoy made the ploughedrnroad at Krall’s ranch, seven miles distant,rnin two days.rnIn summer the mountains are a second,rninfinitely expansive, home; fromrnearly fall until the following summerrnthey are a likely ambush, a potential trap.rnAlways by elk season the hunter is himselfrnthe prey. That high overcast, thatrnslight shift in the direction of the wind:rnthese are among the signs that dangerrnthreatens. Looking up the black spires ofrnthe trees to the cliff face that appears tornbe falling constantly backward beneathrnthe forward-moving sky, one feels in thernpale light, the cold shadow, a sense ofrnthe country against him, and somethingrnlike fear.rnThe day after the first winter stormrnhas dropped several feet of snow in thernmountains, the elk migrate by the hundredsrnfrom the high country toward theirrnseasonal range, bounding down from therntimbered slopes through chest-deeprnpowder, across Fontenelle Creek, andrnover the sagebrush flats. In the collectivernrush they are oblivious to the huntersrnwho have their choice of three, five, sevenrntrophy bulls tP shoot out of the herdsrnin a scene that is reminiscent of thern19th-century slaughters and ends with arndozen gut piles steaming in the trampledrnand bloody snow. It is an easy way tornhunt elk, if your timing is right and yourrnluck good. Also your battery. Whatrnthat late October storm means is thatrnsomeone has punched the second button,rnand the Great Portcullis has begunrnits descent. You do not want to berncaught on the wrong side of it.rn<£>rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn