Topping out, I surprised three coyotes, a rare enough sight with wolves in the neighborhood now. They were silhouetted like burglars, and I waited until they had loped round the shoulder before going on. I suppose I let down my guard, thinking no elk would stand for their presence. It was a lapse of judgment that just about cost me. A couple more steps with the horizon shifting and there they were, a line of elk wondrous and huge, as they always appear, filing back along the north slope toward the wall of the timber. I had a shot with legal light a minute old, but in the gloom it was difficult to tell the bulls from the cows, and I couldn't be sure whether they were 150 yards up the mountain or 250. And the wind was howling, lifting ice crystals off the snow surface and blowing them into my eyes. I had too much respect for the elk to throw a bullet on hope and lowered the rifle. Maybe all was not lost. If I hurried, there was just a chance I could circle around and catch them, for I knew the country as well as they did and was certain where they were headed.