The north-facing wall of the basin is so steep that the elk have plunged down it, bulling troughs through the snow. We follow their lead gingerly, testing footholds, holding onto tree trunks. Once I slip and sit heavily, wincing as snow jams under the waist of my trousers. Careful here, I mean to say, but before the words are out Bob is down, face first, as a hidden log cracks under his weight. He comes up spitting, his head frosted white. His binoculars are caked with snow, and the floorplate of his rifle has been jarred open by the fall, the cartridges lost. He feeds the magazine three more rounds and snaps shut the floorplate, gouges with a gloved forefinger to clear the binocular lenses, shrugs. Elk hunting.