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PILGRIM'S PROGRESS: OR HOW THE TENDERFEET SURVIVED THEIR ELK HUNT - Part 3 of 4 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Texas Outdoors   
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 16:36

This is part 3 of 4 of another masterpiece of storytelling by Bear Claw. Be sure to come back soon to read the rest of the story!!

PILGRIM'S PROGRESS:

OR HOW THE TENDERFEET SURVIVED THEIR ELK HUNT

JOHN A. HUDSPETH

 

The second day started much as the first, but with the cold crunch of hard frozen ground. We met Gary at the local breakfast cafe, and loaded up to return to the ranger station north of town.

The horses were waiting as they had the day before, but this time we loaded them in the trailer, and went several miles up the valley before saddling up. Once we had our gear lashed down and were ready, we rode the horses further up the valley to conceal our trail head from other hunters. We then turned the mounts uphill, and headed for the high timber on a trail Gary's dad had cleared some 40 years before.

We made our day camp at one of Gary's drop camp sites. The views here were always spectacular. We made a quick fire to warm ourselves up, and staked the horses and stretched our legs. Before this hunt, I had a real affection for canned beef stew. I had purchased 2 large serving cans for each day of this trip, and carried 3 cans in my back pack, each day. Setting an open can of stew on a small "emergency" canned heat (Sterno) stove to heat up (which takes about 10 minutes, due to the thinner atmosphere, and cold air) makes an easy meal for this type of trip. I must admit that my fondness for beef stew was stretched by the end of the trip. Gary seemed to tire of watching me having my "feast" each day, even before I got tired of it. I was sure to clean up the cans with snow and pack them back down, as well.

All the elk sign we had crossed on the way up the mountain showed that the elk were in small groups of 3 to 5 animals. We had felt that the snow, which was by now about 12 inches deep, would begin to move the elk down toward the valleys which were still clear. The key would be to catch them on this move. My strategy would be to still hunt along the paths paralleling the stream, looking for fresh tracks and sign, and watching open areas which might offer shots. Gale and Gary saddled up and rode into the high meadows.

My hunt on the second day involved working back along the trail we had ridden up, working back into the timber along a meadow we had crossed. This was the last day that my deer permit was good, and I had thought that I might get a chance at a mule deer in this area. I walked along trails paralleling the stream, taking stands beside large trees to watch mountain trails and clearings. I could hear hooves on rocks occasionally, but was never able to get into position to see the animals. In fact, on walking back to our rendezvous point, there were two trails which showed that elk had crossed the trail after I had passed that way.

On our third day with our guide, the air was somewhat colder than the previous days, though with very little wind, it was not difficult to stay comfortable. After we had ridden into the mountains and stopped for lunch, Gale and Gary rode up toward a basin in the high country, while I stalked across the little valley we had stopped in to look for sign. I loaded up my emergency fanny pack, and left my day pack in the informal camp where Tim was tethered.

About 16 inches of powdered snow now carpeted the mountain sides, with a slight crust which made walking slow but not impossible. I crossed the little creek which was still flowing about a foot deep, using dry rocks and hanging on to overhead branches. The clutter of branches and rocks made travel more difficult than the snow.

Climbing the opposite bank of the creek channel about 30 feet, there was a level bank, which made travel a little easier. I was counting on the animals finding that appealing, as well. After about 100 yards, I carne to a trail in the snow made by a coyote. Since the snow had been falling during the morning ride into the mountains, I was certain the tracks were quite fresh. It was interesting to see where he had worked back and forth in the snow, stopping at bushes and digging briefly to find whatever his nose told him was below.

After another 200 yards, I carne to tracks more in line with what I was in Colorado for. There were three sets of elk tracks, A large set that had to be the tracks of a good bull, from what Gary had showed us in our travels, and those probably of a cow and calf. Suddenly, I felt as if I had changed from armed tourist to HUNTER! I took up the trail cautiously. I strained to peer through the evergreen tangle that lay before me, to try to see the expected prey before it saw me. The wind was light, and perfect for this approach. The relative stillness made every movement seem noisy, but I was confident that the ground was well enough padded by the fluffy snow to quiet my steps.

After I had been following the tracks for about a half mile, I realized that the larger set of tracks had begun to consistently move to the outside of the bank on the mountainside while the other two tracks went around any large bushes on the mountain side of the bushes. I felt certain that the bull was probably doing this to watch his back trail. If this were true, he was probably aware that he was being trailed, and I was probably closer to these animals that I had realized. I was also aware that in all this distance, the animals had apparently made no stops to graze and dropped no sign.

Realizing that my presence was known, I attempted to work for an advantage. I was aware that elk could easily outdistance me in any terrain with no effort at all. I began to follow the bull's method of checking the trail, stepping to the outside of the bank and looking far ahead to see if I could spot him. I also tried to be more alert to everything around me.

After I had followed the tracks for about a mile, I noticed a slight breeze in my face as I approached the south face of the mountain. Gary had warned us that if we worked out past the "nose" of this slope, we were on our own. That area was so rough and steep that any elk shot in there would have to be packed down to the foot of the mountain, he couldn't get his horses in there.

But at that moment, something happened that caused all reason to be placed on hold. As I surveyed the slope and brush before me, the slightly freshening breeze brought the clear, musty odor of ELK!! I was close enough to smell them. I knew I wouldn't have to travel much further, and I could get a clear view for a long range shot. They were close, and I would be ready.

I tightened up the Whelan-style rifle sling against my forearm, and confirmed that the 3 x 9 Leupold on my rifle was set on its lowest power, to get a fast shot, if a bull presented itself, without stopping my pressing stalk. I had one dense evergreen bush to work around and I should be able to view half the mountain. The bull had worked around the outside of the bush along a crusted trail, and it had supported him. Surely it would support me!!! SURELY NOT!!!

I strained to look past the brush into the bank ahead as I raised my foot to take the second step onto the edge of the bank. Before I was even aware of falling, I was on my back, sliding down the slope. The thin crust of snow had concealed a thick sheet of ice which had built up as the sun had been melting and refreezing the snow of the bank. As I went under a tree branch the thickness of my thumb, I grabbed it in time to stop my fall.

Following my tracks back to camp was easy in the deep snow. I felt that now I was just a nature watcher, since my rifle was useless, so I saw a few things on the way back to camp that I hadn't seen while tracking. It really is funny how perspective affects perception!

Back in camp, from my day pack, I got my pocket rifle cleaning kit and began to remove the ice from my rifle bore, and to displace the moisture with oil wherever I could, while my wet outer clothes dried near the fire. By the time Gary and Gale rode back into the camp, I actually felt pretty cheery. I do have to admit, the luxury of the condo felt especially good that evening.

 

TO BE CONTINUED......