win·ter·kill [wíntr kìl ] vti
to die, or cause a plant, animal, fish, or other living being/organism to die, from lack of adequate protection from winter weather conditions
Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming
A storm was coming to the Bighorn Mountains.
It was late December, four days before Christmas, the last week of the elk hunting season. Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett was in his green four-wheel drive pickup, parked just below the tree line in the southern Wolf range. The terrain he was patrolling was an enormous wooded bowl, and Joe was just below the eastern rim. The sea of dark pines in the bowl was interspersed with ancient clear-cuts and mountain meadows, and set off by knuckle-like granite ridges that defined each small drainage. Beyond the rim to the west was Battle Mountain, separated from the Wolf range by Crazy Woman Creek, which flowed, eventually, into the Twelve Sleep River.
It was two hours away from nightfall, but the sky was leaden, dark, and threatening snow. The temperature had dropped during the afternoon as a bank of clouds moved over the sky and shut out the sun. It was now twenty-nine degrees with a slightly moist, icy breeze. The first severe winter storm warning of the season had been issued for northern Wyoming and southern Montana for that night and the following day, with another big Canadian front forming behind it. Beneath the high ceiling, clouds approached in tight formation, looking heavy and ominous.
Joe felt like a soldier at a remote outpost, listening to the distant rumble and clank of enemy artillery pieces being moved into place before an opening barrage.
For most of the afternoon, he had been watching a herd of twenty elk move cautiously from black timber into a windswept meadow to graze. He had watched the elk, then watched the sky, then turned back to the elk again.
On the seat next to Joe was a sheaf of papers his wife Marybeth had gathered for him that had been brought home from school by his daughters. Now that all three girls were in school--eleven-year-old Sheridan in fifth grade, six-year-old Lucy in kindergarten, and their nine-year-old foster daughter April in third grade--their small state-owned house seemed awash in paper. He smiled as he looked through the stack. Lucy consistently garnered smiley-face stamps from her teacher for her cartoon drawings. April wasn't doing quite so well in rudimentary multiplication--she had trouble with 5's, 8's, and 3's. But the teacher had sent notes home recently praising her improvement.
Sheridan's writing assignment had been to describe what her father did for a living.
MY DAD THE GAME WARDEN
by Sheridan Pickett
Mrs. Barron's class, 5th grade.
My Dad is the game warden for all of the mountains as far around as you can see. He works hard during hunting season and gets home late at night and leaves early in the morning. His job is to make sure hunters are responsible and that they obey the law. It can be a scary job, but he's good at it. We have lived in Saddlestring for 3 and one-half years, and this is all he has done. Sometimes, he saves animals from danger. My mom is home but she works at a stable and at the library...
Joe knew he wasn't alone on the mountain. Earlier, he had seen a late-model bronze-colored GMC pickup below him in the bowl. Swinging his window-mounted Redfield spotting scope toward it, he caught a quick look at the back window of the pickup-driver only, no passenger, gun rack with scoped rifle, Wyoming plates with the buckaroo on them--and an empty truck bed, indicating that the hunter hadn't yet gotten his elk. He tried to read the plate number before the truck entered the trees, but he couldn't. Instead, he jotted down the description of the truck in his console notebook. It was the only vehicle he had seen all day in the area.
From Winterkill: A Novel by C. J. Box, copyright © 2003 C. J. Box, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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