Blog Report: How I spent my 2007 Big Game Hunting Season.
Greetings everybody! All my BG hunting was here in Colorado this year. Which is fine with me, I do have worthy hunting right here in the backyard, so to speak. Nothing fancy this year either, just deer and elk for the freezer. At least that was the plan. Read on. I have thrown in some videos (taken with my little Device) you might find useful-- images I took in the field that qualify as “tips”, on using our stoves, for example.
Some of these were placed here on the Blog earlier. Maggie had extracted them from my Device between hunting trips and put them here. Some of you have probably seen them, and maybe have wondered what had become of them. Well, in the process of extracting them so that I could compile them into this omnibus Report we lost the Thread, the Post, they were on. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve the images, from the Device. What we DID lose forever was the many responses from you correspondents. I recall some of them requesting more “tips” on various subjects. So. Perhaps those of you who made those suggestions can do so again?
In any event, here’s my Report:
Hunt #1: Solo Elk Hunt
The time was First Season, the location was alpine Colorado. Mid-October. I do not normally hunt this early, but the tag acquisition process settled out to this time, and this place. Access to this walk-in only area (which are the areas I hunt exclusively if at all possible) disclosed a sea of horse trailers when I arrived. Most strings were apparently already up-mountain. A couple of outfits were rigging up when I set off afoot. I was the only man packing in on foot. I stepped off with a 62lb. pack, including rifle and several test-stage prototype items I was working on. My testing runs right through hunting season, which is an excellent venue for evaluating gear.
A horse string caught and passed me around a mile up; I of course stepped out of their path, the polite thing to do. The riders and I exchanged good-natured jabs: "Get a horse"; "Yeah, well you and Trigger there can't go where I'm going". Quite true. At the mile-and-a-half point I turned off the trail and commenced a lateral bushwhack through blow-down, up and down across drainages, that no horse could, would, follow. The route resembled somewhat the path of a tacking ship, with many zigs and zags. My previously scouted campsite was wedged well below the main up-mountain lateral trail, and blocked from down-mountain access by private ranch land. My "pocket" was completely mine, had water, had firewood. I saw no one during my sojourn there.
There were watering locations above me, but still a goodly distance below that main trail along which the horse camps were situated, if I was willing to put on a steep climb to get to them. I figured the other hunters wouldn't be much interested in hunting steeply downhill, so I'd have those watering holes to myself, hunting-wise. Such was The Plan. It took me probably in excess of five miles to get into position at my base camp. Those holes up above base camp would receive my focused attention.
I packed in the day before opening day, set up the six-man tipi and medium stove (I was testing the efficacy of one man doing that) and broke up a supply of stovewood sufficient for several days--I was aware of impending snow and wanted to get dry wood under cover up front. It was altogether a fine day--preparing my little world for making meat. I even worked in some video "tips" on using our stoves, using my little Device. You'll find that footage below, and I hope you find it useful.
Opening morning found me at the edge of my water hole of first choice. No elk. I hunted above the hole, and bumped a cow and calf. I wasn't particularly interested in messing with an obvious cow/calf unit so I didn't bear down on either of those two, even though I saw them yet again later in the morning. They got a first-day pass. Afternoon found me away from camp in the other direction, lining up ridgeline locations for long prone shots out into a large old clear cut. By then the falling mush that heralds a snowstorm had found me too. By the time I returned to camp just after dark real-deal winter had arrived. Thank God, once again, for stove-heated tipis!
Snow fell in earnest overnight. I awakened to a pristine blanket of white, with more coming down. I’ve always figured elk are just like us, and prefer real water to eating snow. So The Plan remained: another ascent to the water hole. The morning was quite cold, but not enough time had elapsed for a freeze-up. I arrived at the water hole the same time the elk did. A big bull and about twelve or fifteen cows spied me from their perch on a shelf above the hole at the very moment I came into view from below and saw them. I love such “encounters”! My rifle fairly leaped from the GunBearer. The safety snicked off as the scope cross hairs lowered across the back of the left-most cow in the startled, momentarily frozen-in-place herd. The instant the cross hairs arrived at a spot 60% down from her withers and six inches right of her near shoulder (exactly in line with her off shoulder) the shot was on its way. The whole sequence, from spotting the herd ‘til the shot was released, transpired in less than five seconds.
Upon coming out of recoil, I could see the herd scurrying back off the edge of the shelf. I hadn’t heard a thump, but the distance was too close—only about a hundred yards. Nevertheless, those crosshairs never lie, and elk seldom drop in place even from a mortal blow. I couldn’t see if my elk was down over the lip of the shelf anyway--I would have to sort the situation out when I got up there. Aligning my path on a rock near where my girl had been at the moment of the shot I struggled up. And found her blood trail when I got there. It led diagonally across the bench about thirty yards, to the opposite edge, and it became immediately apparent she had expired there, and then slid off! She was, in fact, wedged under a big blowdown partway down the slope! Oh my, we elk hunters live for such moments, don’t you know. Snow was coming down, the world was slippery, the slope was serious, and there was plenty more blowdown below my stuck elk. This was going to be dicey, now that the “real work” was about to commence. Here I was again, looking to dismantle several hundred pounds of critter on a sidehill from hell.
I skidded down to her. Got her unstuck and held on as “brake” the best I could while she and I slid downward some more and she came to a precarious perch against a very slight bump in the slope. I built that little bump up some with a rock wedged under the elk’s downhill side, and got to work boning her out. She was in far too unstable position to stay put for the major leg lifts and such associated with quartering. Besides, it was more than six miles up and down across snow-covered blowdown to get back to the truck. Not the situation for toting bones. The shot was on target, taking out the top-of-heart plumbing and breaking the offside leg.
I apportioned the meat into three meat baggies. Loaded one into my pack, got a bearing on camp and tried getting there by going downhill to the canyon bottom and wending along it, hoping it would bend toward camp. No go. The canyon wound to north; camp was east. So I had to climb out anyway. Arriving at camp, I hung the one meat baggie, pared down the pack and headed back up for the other two. I took the trekking poles this time, which were immensely helpful in negotiating such steep terrain in snow. I dined that evening on elk tenderloin cooked on the woodstove, which is my tradition following a kill, enhanced by a side of cous-cous with a dash of powdered miso soup. Yum.
Next morning the long ferrying out to the truck began. I had hung all three meat bags overnight to drain. Each ferry would be an all-day effort. Not knowing for certain if the cold weather would hold I ensconced two of the bags in the nearby creek to maintain chill. Having collected my elk on the second day of the hunt I had plenty of time to do the ferrying through that wild, very slippery bushwhack terrain with more modest packweights than usual. Around sixty pound loads would suffice. And so it went for two more days—‘til everything, including camp, was packed out. On the last pack-out I saw one hunter…perhaps a mile and a half from the truck. I would say this hunt fit my definition of solo very nicely!
The encounter with that fellow hunter was, well, embarrassing. Since my second home is “out there” I have long carried a little of the technology one might normally associate with “town”: the capability of listening to music. The advent of MP3 players and such is a great boon; my Device even has that feature. And I traditionally plug myself in to tunes on the long meat-hauling treks following kills. Not while hunting; just for the meat-hauling. I suppose I’m especially sensitive to the motivation of music, to the physical (and mental!) enhancement it seems to lend me during very difficult, athletic, endeavors. I well remember a specially prepared collection of cassette tapes entitled Tele Tunes I used with a small, earphone-equipped boombox when I was bashing the slopes; I can tell you there is nothing on earth that gives me the courage, the rhythm, needed for the steep and deep like ZZ Top’s La Grange beginning to hit its stride as I push off the lip of the mogul run from hell! Skiing “wired”. What a hoot! ( As a first generation Rock & Roller, it’s Classic Rock that trips my trigger best.) Same deal with toting great big loads of elk parts out of the middle of nowhere. American Woman, to cite one example, has a cadence, an inevitability, a relentlessness to it that I characterize as my “walking through granite” music. (Shooting Star is another great one, and certainly Whole Lotta Love!). I am unstoppable; I WILL get this done, and ENJOY every moment of it. The right music converts a backbreaking slog into a triumphal march. I have earned, the hard way, this meat for my family and there is great joy in carrying it on my back, the hard way, in triumph, back to them. It’s what men do. And I exult in being a man.
And so I invite you to imagine yours truly blistering up the last ridge on the way out…dancing. Yep, I can hike fast and dance at the same time, and highly recommend it. Heavy, last-load pack on my back. Gyrating like a go-go dancer. I don’t remember which tune was filling my ears, swelling my soul…maybe something from Tull, or Little Feat. Looked slightly sideways…and there was a fellow clad in orange sitting on a log thirty yards away.
So I sidled over to the guy and explained, as best I could, that this walking “wired” thing was my way of meat hauling, etc. He grinned, congratulated me, asked where the elk were…the usual. I guess he figured I was OK after all. Still, I imagine the tale of his encounter with a certified nut has made a few rounds by now.
So. The above summarizes my first hunt of this season. It was a getting-back-to-my-roots hunt because it was solo. I grew up in a family of non-hunters. I learned on my own. I taught mountaineering and skiing, transitioning into a business building mountaineering/backpacking gear. I never became friends with anyone who hunted. I sure did, a LOT, but it was entirely solo.
I taught my girls to shoot, but a little small game day-hunting was all they were interested in (and that briefly) insofar as hunting went. However, of late, they’ve married, I’ve started up a new company that is building gear expressly for hunting, and I’ve found myself doing a lot of mentoring (with sons-in-law, and to some extent with employees) and hunting with some of my wonderful new-found friends from right here on this Message Board. All of which has been simply terrific. I still confess to missing the very special lure of going it alone. Those of you who’ve read my Solo essay will have seen much of my musing on the subject laid out, as much as it CAN be laid bare, examined. It’s not rational. But there it is. I believe I am going to be doing more solos again. The sons-in-law seem to have enjoyed their exposure, their being taught the ropes, but are now not particularly keen on getting out there no-matter-what. The mentoring mantle can perhaps be shucked for a while. At least until another crop of grandkids shows up. The present grandson is absorbed with football and hasn’t taken up hunting; that is completely understandable, by the way, because he is an exceptional running back! And of course football season coincides with hunting season. Yes, I believe I shall be revisiting these roots more often in future.
(I find this small piece in my Notes taken on the hunt. I think I’ll share it with you, seeing as how this whole account has turned somewhat philosophical): Those who claim that hunting is no longer “necessary” put too much faith in civilization, in “others” doing what they “should”. Maintain the skills brethren, especially afoot. Be responsible. Pass them on. Resist the hateful, immature posturings, prohibitions, of the over-civilized. We know the world much better than they.
I’ve seen some inspiring words on the Board recently about persistence, hard work, being an essential element in consistently killing elk on public land. I think the piece was written by Smokepole. Singleshot brought up the subject of that post the other day when he was visiting the Shop. I confess I haven’t really thought about the difficulty factor in decades. Neither has Singleshot. It’s just part of getting your elk; it never occurred to me just how hard it really is. Well, I’ve thought about it. It IS hard to do what it takes to consistently kill elk the backpack/public land way. There’s a flat-out athleticism to it. Aside from Iron-Man competitions and certain combat situations it’s probably the hardest thing a man can do, especially if you’re successful! I’m talking about full-on backpack hunting for elk. This judgement is based on comparing on-foot elk hunting with my experience in construction, bicycle and cross-country ski racing, long range backpacking, and all sorts of very physical, athletic, endeavors in a getting-long life. Sheep hunting is right up there with it, but far-back-in, on foot, alpine, elk hunting takes no backseat to chasing sheep, especially if one factors in the weight, the size, of wapiti. Just getting where the elk are requires skill, grit, determination and a very great deal of effort. You will cover a great deal of trail-less and difficult ground. You will have to be a savvy woodsman, who also knows how to shoot—either bow or gun—and shoot skillfully under any and all conditions. After the kill, bringing out the proceeds requires even more physical effort. No, it is not for “ordinary” men. But if you make up your mind and do it, you will be one tough hunter. And a consistently successful one. You’ll also be a tough, capable, man. I can also guarantee that it will eventually become not so hard…you won’t even think about it. You’ll be really dangerous then. And of course part of the ethos of this Message Board is the sharing, and the transmittal, of the skills, and perhaps especially the mindset, that go hand-in-hand with this way-of-life sort of hunting. Once it gets hold of you I submit you’ll find yourself STAYING in shape, not just GETTING in shape for the season. You’ll be backpacking in for fishing, for small game, for the woodcraft, for the sheer delight in being “out there” of it. And lastly, I’m betting you’ll stay with the hunt into older age. Because you can. Because you’ll want to. Because it’s simply what you do.
There’s an old sailor’s saying: “The hardest conditions define the sailor”. Ditto the hunter.
Here are some videos from this hunt. The “tips” discussed above are among ‘em.
Meat Baggie Video
Hunt #2: Mule deer
Later in October work colleague Kevin Morlang and I put on a hunt for mule deer on the Western Slope here in Colorado. Not a walk-in-only area this time. That took some adjusting in approach. Finding a "pocket" for camp took some doing; there were so many roads bracketing most patches of too-gnarly-for-roads terrain we couldn't go very far. But we finally settled on a spot and got the 8-man tipi and Large stove up. That large stove was a comfort, as the temperatures were way down there every night.
I love mule deer country: corrugated rows of tanned-earth ridges speckled with dark green junipers. The steepest of them even keep the putt-putt drivers out. That's where we concentrated our walks. We covered our little covert like dew. I was fortunate enough to take my doe (this too, was a meat hunt) on day one. A hundred yard flat-footed poke that dropped her in place. I showed Kevin the gutless method, quartering this time. The entire proceeds were carried out in one trip. I showed Kev how to fetch the heart and liver without gutting too: by going in under the diaphram. We dined that night on a combination of chopped heart/liver, simmered in olive oil with soy sauce,sautéed green onion, cilantro, and crushed red pepper, and a dash of powdered Romano cheese. Exquisite!
Kevin killed his deer on the late afternoon of the last day of the hunt. Such are the vagaries of hunting fortune. Following the same gutless procedures, the whole deer was packed out in one trip. Both of us carried our pack-out size packs all week…ready to tote directly from the kill sites. Near-dark pics of Kevin and his deer-in-Meat Baggies are below. A fine hunt. It is always nice to have some deer in the freezer. Kevin can shoot, and he can certainly walk as well. He proved ready for his next hunt: elk! Which is where this summary-of-the-season is headed next.
Here’s a still shot of Kevin and his deer in Meat Baggies:
Hunt #3: Elk with Kevin
Kevin and I next travelled back out to the Western Slope for his elk. He had the only tag; I was wearing my mentor mantle. This was a walk-in-only, and we appreciated that. Set up the 8 man with Large Stove again. And appreciated that again too, as the temps were plenty cold.
Kevin shot his elk in the afternoon of day two. And proceeded to wield his newly-learned gutless processing method on a really big specimen. Interestingly, a fine Air Force man named Buck had killed his elk nearby at about the same time as Kevin collected his (from the same herd, in fact) and wound up learning the gutless method too, as he thoughtfully pitched in on butchering Kevin’s cow. The upshot is that Kevin and Buck moved on over to Buck’s elk and got busy with it whilst I carried all the quarters and such from Kevin’s down to camp. By the time all the butchering was completed it was well past dark, and we were all operating by headlamp. Buck is good man; he’s welcome in my tipi anytime.
Surprisingly, we met several good men on this hunt…in an area that I’ve seldom seen anybody. Perhaps the walk-in-only aspect of the place breeds compatible fellows. One man was hunting with his son , and the determined guy was using a cane! He had undergone knee surgery only two weeks prior to the hunt; didn’t let that stop him either! Two of his friends were also on the mountain. These two were very late coming down the third night, after Kevin and I had packed all our meat out. We waited for ‘em. It got so late we decided to go back up and look for them. Ran into some of their friends waiting at the trailhead, who assured us that these guys were well equipped to deal with whatever the delay was, and so Kevin and I backed off. Sure enough, the fellows made it out late into the night, headlights aglow. Again, it seems that foot-only areas attract savvy hunters. Oh! Another fellow to mention is Scott. He had shot his elk even further back than Kevin and Buck had, and we kept bumping into him on meat-ferrying trips. Same sort of guy: very tough, competent, could shoot straight, owned many rifles (which we talked at length about of course). After we were already “out” here came Scott, on his last ferry too. Walked up to Kevin and presented him with the ivories from his (Kevin’s) elk! Seems Mr. Scott had detoured to Kevin’s elk on his last trip out for the sole purpose of getting those ivories, for Kevin. We had forgotten about it. Very nice gesture! Kevin’s first elk. He now has something permanent to remember that by, thanks to Scott.
We had plenty of time…no reason to rush back to town. So we moseyed over to the Soldier Of Fortune Annual Elk Camp, in an adjacent Unit about two hours away, and paid a courtesy call. Found a bunch of fine fellows there as well. All up, the unusual “company” attaching to this hunt helped make it memorable; excellent men, one and all. Not to mention that Mr. Kevin was two for two, putting both a mule deer and an elk in the freezer this season. Very nice going, Kevin!
Here is a bit of video, showing Kevin and Buck processing Kevin’s elk:
Hunt #4: Late Season Elk
This hunt was set up from the get-go to be a ski hunt. Singleshot and I are both veteran cross-country skiers, and thought it would be a fine twist to chase elk aboard, well, our boards. The locale was back in that alpine area I took my first elk of the season from. We both know the area pretty well; well enough to know that any hunt conducted at the cusp of November/December would be assured of plentiful snow for skiing. It's high, and so is the terrain elk "come-down-to" come winter; the elk would still be there; just lower...there's no place else for 'em to go. Good plan.
Except there was not enough snow for skiing this year! Ah, the vagaries of well-laid plans. So. We walked in; still on snow, around 5" of the stuff, just not enough for skis. The 8 man tipi was set up at base camp when I arrived, compliments of Bill--I was a day late getting out of Dodge. (Thank you Singleshot!) About four miles in. That 5" was recent snow, so we had expectations of the elk coming on down. Not enough. We scoured the area for days. I hiked up-mountain as far as we could expect to get elk out in any reasonable, even unreasonable, fashion, and even for steppers like Singleshot and me. Way up, in other words. No sign. Those critters were WAY up-mountain, apparently.
It was plenty cold. Well below zeroF at night. And windy. Great conditions for testing bags and garb. Just no elk, the nominal reason for being there. Along about day five more snow came. So did Smokepole and son Hunter, who dropped in. (They had been on tap all along, just iffy-ish.) Meanwhile, things with both the family and the business had got to the point my attention was needed (after weeks and weeks of being afield this was not particularly surprising). I had been trying to communicate with home from a very sketchy, exposed, cell phone "pocket" a mile or more from camp. What with the delicate connections (when I could get them at all) and the wind blocking my old-shooter hearing I just couldn't get the needful administering work done from the field. Not this time. So I decided to bail. I usually collect both elk when I sign up for two; but what the heck. I already had an elk in the freezer, the kids are gone--just me and Sarah in the house nowadays--so the one elk will see us through nicely, etc., etc. Bearing down, at any cost, on what you've set out to do can get to the point where it's running the show, instead of your judgement.
Singleshot, facing an array of the same concerns (he owns a business too), opted to come out with me. So we packed up and headed down. Sayonara. Didn't get to ski as planned anyway. We're oughta here! We pulled out in late afternoon.
We finally arrived at the big ridge crossing. The last one on the descent. Nearly dark; rapidly fading shooting light. Neither of us had EVER seen elk there in all the travels we've made in the area. We stopped so that Singleshot could fiddle with something or other with the sled he was pulling. (We did have a sled, pulling it on foot; there was enough snow for that.) I took off my pack, laid it on the sled to get a snack out. No sooner put it down than WHOOSH, the sled was yanked out from under my pack (SS was still in harness), spilling it at my feet. I caught the sled from the corner of my eye; it was yanked forward about five feet. Looked further upwards and spotted Singleshot with the .308 braced against an aspen, facing the opposite direction from my position. CRACK! A shot! Elk! In this spot! The dang things had finally come down!
We hurried toward the downed elk. And I spotted the rest of the herd filing back up-mountain. Holy smoke! If I race right up...THERE I can pick off one of these critters for myself with a quite doable longish poke. As if my legs were on auto pilot they began to head that way. “WAIT UP THERE SON!” (My sense began to kick in.) "You're going back to town for real-deal reasons. You have an elk in the freezer already, and have resolved with yourself why that's enough. Singleshot has an elk down, already delaying this going-home decision. It's very nearly DARK. You have pledged to show SS the gutless technique. If you kill ANOTHER one, several hundred yards from his, you both will be here all night!" And so the wrestling-with-myself went. It was exceedingly difficult, but my saner self won out. I reeled myself in. I declined on that second elk. I must be getting wise in my advancing years. Who'da ever believed it!
So. That was that. We had one elk to do in the dark. In the near-zero cold and wind. Enough! Out with the headlamps and the knives. Let's get this surprise show on the road.
Singleshot's shot was indeed that: a single one. Complete penetration. Right in the ten ring. 194 yards. The mighty .308 barks, and it's all over. And the hard work begins. Etc. We still made it out that night. And the sorting of affairs got done. Nice goin' Singleshot! You did your namesake proud.
We both regret not getting to do the ski thing. That needs to happen. For the simple joy of it. Maybe next year....
Here’s a barely discernable image of Singleshot dismantling his elk. Perhaps you can at least get a flavor of the cold, and of course the darkness. Ah, elk hunting!
There’s my Report. 2007 Hunting Season. Big game, anyway. Merry Christmas to you all, and may God bless you as fulsomely as He has me!
PS: A very special and heartfelt greeting to all you warriors out there! While I’ve been chasing game you’ve been at your posts—steadily rubbing out the worst crop of vermin this weary world has yet seen. Keeping them away from me and mine. I congratulate you and I salute you! Please know that you are foremost in my mind and my prayers. Always.