Hunting with Raven

Common Ravens (Corvus corax) have been a part of my daily life for twenty years—ever since I moved to the mountain town and once great mining city of Butte, Montana. Ravens are a common bird on the landscape in and around Butte. Other Montana cities have crows or magpies, but Butte has ravens. My home in Walkerville seems to be in the center of a breeding pair’s territory, and they often herald the dawn from the tall spruce tree in front of my bedroom window. My mile-and-a-half walk to work is between a rookery and both the interstate highway (a prime source of road kill) and the county landfill. Rare is the day that a juvenile conspiracy (i.e. a flock of ravens) and a mating pair or two does not pass overhead. Winter or summer, from my office window and while walking about the campus of my little college, I enjoy the sights and sounds of the Raven People.

Last year, while hunting elk, I parked the truck in the predawn gloaming and began the climb up a steep ridge. I heard a raven wings slice the cold air and, as it passed over, I quorked a greeting. Raven quorked a reply, rolled briefly on its back, and flew toward a park atop the ridge. I followed, and a mile later found where elk had scraped away the snow to feed on grasses during the night. Raven was perched in a lightning-killed fir, waiting. Again, it flew off on the elks’ trail with a “follow me” quork.

A mile later I was stalking through dense north-slope whitebark pines listening to Wisakedjaks (Gray Jays) chatter when I followed the sweet, musky smell of elk to the bedded herd. I killed a young cow 100 feet away, the hillside exploded with fleeing elk, Raven chortled its joy, and the resident pair of Wisakedjaks moved in to feed on the gutpile. Raven flew off to recruit a mob that would clean up the kill site as soon as I left. I dragged the elk carcass well away from the site and covered it with fir branches, hiding it from the ravens until I could return the next day with help to haul it to the nearest road.

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Posted: Friday, April 30th, 2010

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