Stories by Bear Claw
Written by Texas Outdoors
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 16:41
This is part 4 of 4 of another masterpiece of storytelling by Bear Claw. Be sure to check back soon for more Bear Claw stories!!
OR HOW THE TENDERFEET SURVIVED THEIR ELK HUNT
JOHN A. HUDSPETH
Day four dawned coldest of all. The temperature in town was in the low teens, hoar frost covered ice everywhere, and the roads were treacherous, even in town. We met Gary as usual, and he remained enthusiastic. Since there had been few elk at the elevations at which we had ridden, this would be the day we rode into the high country, above the timberline.
Gary took us even further past the ranger station this time, driving as far as we could into the valley. We saddled up and rode in silence a half mile along the valley floor, before turning up what Gary claimed was a trail into the high country. This trip was different that the others. We rode far up into the mountains, where we found tracks of elk gathering in larger and larger groups, crossing over into big, bowl shaped meadows, always seeming to be just a little ahead of us.
Gary led us across the slope of one mountain, where the snow had completely hidden the narrow trail along the mountainside. We had to dismount to lead the horses under some overhanging branches, with the mountain plumetting below, to the right of the horses. If we had needed to stop and go back down the mountains, we would have had to make the horses back up. After we got past the overhangs, I led Tim over to a handy rock to reach the stirrup.
Just as I placed my full weight in motion, my boot slid out of the stirrup, due to the slick, frozen sole of by boot. I caught myself across the saddle, and managed to slide around behind the pommel. Gary was worried that both Tim and I might go sliding down the mountain. I wasn't sure whether he was more worried about losing the horse, or having to quarter a hunter to get back down into town, since I was so heavy, and we were so far out. Instead of jumping down as I should have, I was able to lift myself over the saddle, and get back into position.
We made our day camp at the edge of one of these mountain bowls, at nearly 13,000 feet. I walked to a point where I could watch a large area, and spent two hours being amazed that I had been able to see the beauty of the mountains in winter. I searched the pine forest all along the edge of the high meadow, looking for some patch of elk hair, for a glint of sunlight on antler, or a puff of snow turned up from a pair of hooves.
Gale and Gary returned early in the afternoon, with stories of enormous numbers of elk hoofprints leading from one meadow to the next, with no signs of the makers. We all warmed up by the fire, then mounted back up. We took a round about route back into the valley, checking points along the timberline for signs of elk herds. After we had ridden about half way back down to the valley, Gary and Gale rode off toward a canyon where Gary thought they might get a shot, while I dismounted and found another beaver pond meadow to watch. The sun was warm and I was content to soak in the warmth and enjoy the day. I was so intent on studying the edges and forest that I was surprised when Gary walked up and said it was time to go.
I found what appeared to be a sharp rock to get up into the saddle, planted my left foot firmly on it (not going to let my icy boots catch me this time), and slid directly under Tim. That was no sharp rock, that was moss! Gary was getting insistent that I not lay under his horse. In fact, I had noticed a serious change from the rather polite manner of his speech from our first meeting. I was not happy about it either, but a little concerned about flailing about, however. As soon as I could find a muddy patch below my heels in which I could anchor my boots, I kicked myself out from underneath Tim.
The remainder of the ride down the mountain was uneventful. By this time, the roads in the National Forest had become incredibly slick, and we stopped and helped a couple of hunting parties back onto the pavement. On reflection, lowe most of the fact that I got out of the whole experience to a really good natured horse. I really ought to start sending Tim Christmas cards.
We decided to take one more day of hunting on our own on Thursday. We drove the slick roads west of Pagosa to the trailhead near the Weminuche wilderness. The valley was in full daylight by the time we got to the area we wanted to hunt, and the air was deep frozen, near zero. We worked carefully up the trail to a small drainage area where it appeared that animals might be crossing. Gale went on up the trail, to the lake at the top of the hill.
As I watched the mountainside, soaking in the last day of my hunt, a pair of hunters spotted me, and started calling out and waving on the trail below, breaking the stillness. I didn't want to be unfriendly, but I had been enjoying the quiet. Rather than have them disturb my area, I walked to meet them on the trail. When we were about 50 yards apart, they suddenly realized that I was not the other member of their party, apologized, and headed off down toward the parking area. Shrugging off the interuption, I returned to the crest overlooking the drainage. The rest of the morning was quiet, except for the sound of hooves on ice that I had assumed was another party of horseback hunters, since I couldn't see anything.
After about two hours, Gale came back down the trail. "How many were there. I didn't hear your shot." "There were only two other hunters, and I only thought about shooting at them, but thought that it would be too much trouble to explain. What are you talking about?"
"It looks like there were about 100 elk that crossed the trail just over this rise. They went right across the tracks I had made on the way up." A fitting end to great adventure.
While we did not bring home meat, neither of us felt that our trip had been a failure. We had experienced an aspect of the outdoors which for us had been out of reach in the past. Both of
us plan to return at some future time, when work and personal conflicts allow it. I expect at some point in the future to prepare myself for more of a mountain man adventure, now that have been privilege to see the mountain.
One reason that we enjoyed a trip that might have been disappointing to others was that both of us, while not candidates for a rigorous pack in trip, were aware of our limitations and we had each spent time in the Rocky Mountains each summer. Our hope was to experience the trip, and to view the killing of an elk or deer as a potential part of that experience, not the singular focus of this trip. On our first contact with our guide, we let him know what we expected, and found out what he expected of us.
The main reason we considered our trip a success was that our guide was willing to work with us in line with that expectation. His horses and equipment were well suited to the task, and he set about providing us with the hunt we expected. The experience of a first elk hunt, while not a traditional success, was well worth the price in its rich experience.
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!!
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......
Written by Texas Outdoors
Sunday, 04 August 2013 13:11
This is part 2 of 4 of another masterpiece of storytelling by Bear Claw. Be sure to come back soon to read the rest of the story!!
OR HOW THE TENDERFEET SURVIVED THEIR ELK HUNT
JOHN A. HUDSPETH
The big day arrived, and we left work at noon for our drive to Colorado. It must have been some state holiday, such as "all plumbing day" or such, since at every stop along the way, the restrooms were marked "Out of Order". This did have the effect of delaying our progress at about the halfway mark, until we found a state park with facilities that apparently were exempt from the celebration.
We pulled into the last available campsite in a national forest just shortly before midnight and got out to stretch our legs and get the lay of the land as quietly as we possible could. Had this been one of the earlier season hunts, there would have been no sites available. A couple of other hunters were still awake in the cool evening air. We started one of our camp stoves to make some hot chocolate to share, and find out what we could of the area.
This was my first trip to the Rocky Mountains in the fall, although I went to the mountains almost every summer. The temperature was in the low forties, and the air was an absolutely invigorating tonic. The sound of the stream filled the air, and I nearly hyperventilated, trying to drink in the delicious aroma of pines and stream and ... horses! There was a remuda some of the camped hunters had set up just past the camping area. This was it. This was hunting season in the Rockies. After we had finished our late night libation, and very quietly wished our fellow hunters well, we turned in for a very short night's sleep.
About 4:00 am, I heard the horsemen leaving out with their pack string. I was eager to get started, but I knew it was still 3 hours before first light, and that we needed to acclimate ourselves that day. Sleep was fitful for the rest of the night, as first one group, then another of the campers moved out for their hunt.
By 6:00 am I could stand it no longer. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and began to put on the clothes I had laid out the night before. I opened the tailgate of my truck, and started the stove to reheat some of the coffee that remained in my thermos from the night before.
After a quick breakfast, we sorted out our hunting packs and rifles, and locked up the truck. We were the last of the hunters to leave the campsite. We followed up the creek approximately a mile and a half through several meadows, to the base of an inviting mountain. Crossing several deer trails, with fresh sign, we climbed above the stream to a high meadow at about 8,000 feet elevation.
Gale always walks as if he is late for something, and his hunting style is the same. He forged ahead into the meadow, leaving me about 50 yards behind, looking at the profusion of fresh droppings. As he reached the center of the clearing, we were both startled by the clamor of a good mule deer buck ripping his way through the underbrush ringing the meadow, trying to get down the mountain we had just hiked up. By the time I had him located in my scope, he lined out away from me behind a large pine tree. We tried to locate where his escape had taken him, but to no avail.
As we worked through the clearing, a long wailing bugle was heard from the valley below. We crossed a corner of the clearing and found a 7 foot pine tree that had been totally stripped, except for an absurd little tuft of needles right at the top. Seeing a rub like that told me that we were not after the jack rabbit sized whitetails I had known and enjoyed for years.
By this time, the sun had risen above the surrounding peaks, but was hiding behind the thin grey clouds. The temperature was in the high 40's, and the light fog made the air delicious. Gale decided to work on up the mountain, while I picked out a prominent point from which to watch for a voluntary buck or bull elk.
The land had lost most of the bright colors of the earlier fall. There was still a hint of yellow in the litter below the trees, and the reds were just about faded to brown. The dark green of the pines was different than that of the summer. I was hooked already. I honestly don't know how long I sat on that rock looking over the valley. I ached to see the bull that had bugled working his way across the stream, but I almost didn't want to have to shoot and break the stillness. To this day, each time I close my eyes, I see a little bit of the view from that rock.
Before I had taken in my fill of the mountainside, Gale slipped up behind me. He had been over the top of the ridge, and found more sign in the clearing near where I had stayed. We needed to get on into town to meet with the guide and make our final arrangements. We worked on down the trail, back to the campsite where we had parked. As we crossed the stream the last time, I was saddened when I saw how the remuda had torn up the area during the night. As we were within 100 yards of the truck, a shot rang out near our camp.
Several local hunters had driven into the campground area to start their hunt, and had seen a young 3x3 mulie standing within sight of our campground, and were just getting down to the business of dressing their prize. Had I stayed in camp, I could have taken this fellow without spilling my coffee. Often, when I come in empty handed, I feel unsatisfied, compulsive. I think I got the best of that morning's hunt, though.
We drove into town and had large burgers before checking in at the condo. We called our guide, Gary. He was ready for us to come out to his place and make our final plans, and pay him the balance for our hunt.
Gary looked pretty guide-ish. He was of medium height, lighter build, and red complexion. He had the stance of a man who had spent a lot of time on horses, and the wind-eroded look of someone who spends a lot of time out in the Rockies. I noticed that he didn't wear a cowboy hat, but a billed cap with warm ear flaps. He also didn't wear a coat, just an extra shirt, and wool pants.
Gary's string of horses were the ideal mounts for this terrain. They were the biggest mounts I had ever seen. Threequarter ton, four wheel drive horses with huge hooves and quiet dispositions. Well fed and strong were these animals. A lean nervous animal is not appropriate on these mountain trails. But I thought I was going to need some type of folding ladder for my pack, so I could reach the saddle. Stumps and big rocks would have to do for launching pads to blast into the saddle.
The plan agreed on was to meet Gary at 5:00 am Sunday morning in town, and then drive behind his truck up to a ranger station where the string of horses we would use were corralled. We would then ride on horseback into the mountains from there. We drove back toward the condo, stopping along the way to visit a meat processing plant, just to check on the procedure should we be successful. We went over our equipment that night, making certain that our boots were dry and sealed. We laid out what we felt we would need, and then turned in for a short night's sleep.
First call was at 4:00 am, and found us eager to start. The weather was cool, around freezing, with a light frost on the truck. We loaded up our gear and drove on down to the local cafe, which was already brim-full of men in all variety of outdoors dress, but all with some type of bright orange. Our guide soon arrived, and we ordered plates heaping with eggs, sausage, and gravy.
We arrived at the ranger station before the sky was completely light. The sun would not be visible above the mountains till mid-morning The frost was heavier at the corral, at about 9,000 feet, than in town. The mountains above us were already showing the white of snow.
I met my mount, a big black half Barzion horse called "Tiny Tim". With little fanfare, we saddled up, mounted, and headed off up the mountain which was the back fence of the corral, and the horses weren't apt to climb without someone in a saddle urging them on.
The trail was steep, but the horses managed with stops about every five minutes to catch their wind. After only half an hour, we were in the snow. We came upon elk beds so fresh that steam was rising from them. The elk knew the routine after bow season, muzzle-loader season, and the two previous rifle seasons, and moved out as we approached.
After another hour's ride, we crossed fresh bear sign at about 10,000 feet. The guide was concerned that the horses might get skittish, especially if the owner of the sign were about. This certainly gave me an extra "hunter's edge" in watching the woods around us. Snow had begun falling on us, the flakes drifting straight down in the incredibly still air. The effect was that of cloaking the aspen and fir growth in an intensely quiet atmosphere, which I rarely experienced at home on the plains.
At about 11,000 feet, we rode into one of Gary's drop campsites. Hunters had used this campsite in earlier seasons and had taken a couple of nice bulls. There was a small stream running beside the site, and several peaks were visible through the clouds of big, fat snowflakes which now poured out of the sky. The campsite would make a good day camp to work out of. We unbridled the horses and loosened the saddles and gathered wood for a fire to warm us up.
After an early lunch, we rode down from the mountain to try a different area. The snowfall and the exertion had the horses soaked in their own sweat, and the saddle was riding up on Tim's neck. We stopped once to correct the problem, but it wasn't effective. When we got to the elevation that snow had turned to slush, Gary insisted that I lead Tim down, rather than riding him.
Walking in front of a 1,500 pound horse along a slick muddy trail, where it looks as if the next step would be about 700 feet down was a new experience for me. Especially since Tim wasn't too sure he wanted to go that way. In fact, he was usually sure that he didn't want to follow, so it seemed as if I had to pull him down the whole mile. I had the nagging thought all the way that he knew from experience what soft flatland hunter felt like under his steel shoes! I was torn between aggravation at having to stumble along, and appreciation of the fact that Gary took such good care of his stock. I think Tim appreciated it, though.
That afternoon, we picked up different mounts, and tried hunting an area called "valle Seco". This was an entirely different type of hunting than the high mountain hunts of the morning and the rest of the trip. We rode through a large valley, and into the oak forest along the hills, predominantly looking for a mule deer to fill my tag. We saw a lot of sign, a few does, and quite a few hunters (the only time we saw more than one other hunter the whole time with Gary.)
My mount that afternoon was Red Man. He and I were old acquaintances, having met when my family and I had visited the condo several summers back, and visiting Gary's "Astraddle A Saddle" for a tourist ride. Red Man didn't seem impressed.
I was having a tough time avoiding trees, and every time he got close to one, I tried to lean away, not realizing that pulling myself toward the off-side of the saddle meant pressing my leg into his side, moving him toward the tree. I learned a lot about oak bark that day.
By the time we got the horses back to the trailer, I was ready to rest for the day. We returned to the condo just in time to see a storm front coming over the mountain range to the north. In the time it took me to run in and get my camera, it appeared that the dark blue clouds had advanced from the top of the range to the bottom, just out of town. The snow line was advancing from the high mountains where we had been earlier that day, into town.
That first night, as we brought our hot pizza and salad from the corner restaurant and the streets began to freeze up, I really began to appreciate the condo style of elk hunting. After we had dried out our boots and snow sealed them while we relived our day, we turned in early for a sound sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED......
Written by Texas Outdoors
Saturday, 08 September 2012 12:07
This is part 1 of 4 of another masterpiece of storytelling by Bear Claw. Be sure to come back soon to read the rest of the story!!
OR HOW THE TENDERFEET SURVIVED THEIR ELK HUNT
JOHN A. HUDSPETH
What was it they told us last month in Hunter Ed class? Oh yeah, don't panic!! The clouds were opening up nicely, and the sun was beginning to make bright sparkles on the snow piled on the branches of the evergreens on the mountain around me. I had begun to notice some of the ice under my head was melting and beginning to wet my collar.
I was flat on my back, on a solid sheet of snow crusted ice which sloped downward at about 30 degrees. The narrow branch which I was hanging onto was growing straight from the base of a pine tree two feet above me and three feet behind. It was apparent that if I had attempted to pull the branch in any direction except straight in the direction from which it had grown, it would snap like the twig it was.
In spite of my situation, I really didn't feel especially worried. I was on vacation, right? I guess my worst fear at the moment was that I might someday be lying in a nice warm coffin somewhere back home, with my friends standing around saying, "He did WHAT? That figures, he was always getting in over his head." Anyway, I really expected that I would survive the inevitable fall, but getting off of this mountain on horseback with whatever broken limbs resulted did promise to be painful. I reflected on the events which had started eight weeks before.
"WHATCHAGOT on your schedule next month?" my friend and coworker, Gale, asked me one bright September afternoon as I sat puzzling over a computer problem. I wasn't sure how to respond. Gale had this impish gleam buried under his beard that meant that something was up. Gale is a bit higher up the corporate food chain than I am. I never know if his cheerful inquiries mean a little recreation after work or a 6 month assignment on some project I haven't even heard about. Gale takes on all challenges equally cheerfully.
I, on the other hand, was extra hesitant at this point. As Fall approached, I didn't want to get tied up into anything that would cut into the small amount of time that I could sift out of family and other obligations for my hunting. "Oh, its not nearly as packed as I expected it to be. What's your drift?"
"You know I'm buying a condo at Pagosa Springs. This is the first year we'll get to use it. The only time we could schedule with the management was the end of October and the beginning of November, and my wife and kids can't be out of school then. I thought maybe you might have an extra rifle. If I supply the place and you supply some equipment, I thought we might try an elk hunt."
An elk hunt! I had spent lots of time hunting Texas whitetail. I had read lots of articles about elk hunting. In fact I had been to Colorado during the previous summer with my son's scout troop, and picked up a hunting proclamation. I had pored over the proclamation, daydreaming about hunting there. But I never thought that I would get to chase these magnificent beasts, not so soon, anyway. The logistics of this type of hunt were also well in my mind.
"This sounds terrific! But the last week of October, that's just a little less than 8 weeks away. There's no way we could be ready," I protested weakly.
Gale ignored my protests, as usual, "Gee, I thought we'd just pack up and go. What's the problem?"
"Well first off, I'm not in shape for this type of trip." In spite of my weak protestations, we spent the next few weeks climbing stairs in the 30 story building we worked in bacl then on breaks, and trying out equipment for the trip.
Somehow, in my idle dreams of an assault on Elk Country, the term "condominium" had never come up. I always envisioned myself a "mountain man" type at heart, although a bit on the overweight side (maybe, truthfully,l WAYYYY on the overweight side!) Maybe on horseback with a bearskin over my shoulders like in the movie "Jeremiah Johnson". Or with my bow and elk bugle, working in some big bull with lust on his mind through a tangle of underbrush to my waiting arrow.
Then again, that nice warm bath sounded pretty good in contrast to the melting snow soaking through my collar.
I tried to regain my feet, even turn over, but the slope which held me offered no traction. I decided to stop for a moment and survey my position. My tightened sling had kept my rifle on my arm, and other than a coat of ice and snow, it seemed to be alright. I was too, at least nothing broken or bleeding. Other than the utter frustration of so suddenly going from arch predator to helpless slug, and a brief battering from the initial fall, I was apparently alright.
First, I unloaded my rifle, and secured the cartridges in my flap pocket with my free hand. I was about 2 miles from my day camp, and I knew that Gary, our guide would be coming back in about an hour or so, and would be able to follow my tracks to this place easily, so I knew that I wouldn't be left here to die, as well.
I tried to analyze the consequences if I just went ahead and let go. I would slide about 30 yards to the edge of the slope, and then drop off into the stream bed below. That was the worrisome part. From the pine trees that grew up from the streambed, I guessed that might have been about a 10 to 15 foot drop, but onto what? Just standing up was out of the question, since there was no traction. In fact, rolling over and getting off of my back was impossible. Above my head, just out of reach of my free arm at the edge of the trail, was a small tree with a trunk that split just where it came out of the ground. That might be the ticket!
As I tried to reach the trunk, I only slid more. I tried pulling myself up the small branch that I clung on to, but I could feel its grain pulling from the tree every time I added more pressure. This was a job which was going to require patience!
By gradually pulling myself toward the base of the branch, moving little by little, I finally got close enough to the split trunk to wedge my rifle stock behind the split, and then using the leather sling, I was able to pull myself back toward the trail. It took about half an hour, but I was back on the trail.
When I was on my feet, I took a quick damage census. I was wet, but the activity had kept me from being cold. My rifle bore was packed with ice, so it would be unwise to take up the trail, which was by now cold in every sense. Back to camp!!! As I walked back, I continued remembering the events that got me up so high on a snowy November.
I had visited a mountain condo, the same establishment Gale had bought in, once on a summer family vacation. It was really very pleasant. But people who were staying in the condos wore low top shoes, and pants with neat creases. Very few of the folks I saw at the condo had belt knives on. I even noted that most of condo folks shaved regularly and brought combs along on their vacations. This was the type of behavior I went on vacation to avoid. Certainly these were not the mountain men types I had envisioned at an elk camp!
Calls to the customer service desk at the condo offices resulted in recommendations for a local guide service that provided day hunts on horseback. I could handle that. I had grown up on a farm on the Texas South Plains with horses (flat land horses, anyway). Although I rode often back then, I had eventually reached a point in life where I had seen just about every square inch of land around my home, and had quit riding. But I liked the idea of a horseback trip. At least then I would be working out a part of my body that my desk job kept toughened up! Or so I thought.
We contacted our guide by phone to get information on the services available. A one family operation, he had an opening the last rifle season, when we would be in Colorado. In fact, he preferred to take hunters on day hunts for the last season, since he had been hard pressed to retrieve people, equipment, and horses from drop camps in the last few years, due to high mountain blizzards.
BLIZZARDS! Well, maybe this condo stuff sounded better after all. Our plans began to take shape. We were going to leave at noon on Friday, the end of October, and camp in my truck the night before we could check into the condo. Elk and deer seasons would both begin on Saturday morning after we got there. We would have the first day to acclimate ourselves, by doing some easy stalking and light hiking on our own, in some of the public land near Pagosa Springs. We could meet our guide for final preparation and move into the condo Saturday afternoon.
We were fortunate to work in an office with a couple of men who each had several years' experience guiding elk hunters and managing elk hunting on private ranches. Discussions with both of these experts made us feel that the trip was possible, and that we were on the right track. Elk hunting is elk hunting, right?
In late September, we managed to get into a two weekend Hunter Safety class. We sent off for our bull elk and buck deer permits the first week of October, and a 50% deposit to our guide, with a pleasant letter telling him our needs and what condition we were in. And a notice that I weighed about 250 pounds and we needed big horses. When I sent off my money, I felt COMMITTED. I knew we were going, at last.
We got the rifles sighted in for 200 yards with 180 grain factory loads in the '06 and 175 grain factory loads in the 7mm. Sighting in was done by firing 3 and 5 shot groups from the bench, allowing a few minutes to cool down the barrels between each shot. Each session involved finishing up by shooting from a standing position at the 200 yard bull's eye until we felt we could reliably hit an elk or deer at that range. We carefully cleaned rifles following each session.
Our guide supplied horses, tack, and expertise. We had to bring along all equipment and food. We prepared packs with basic survival gear, compasses, tools for field dressing large animals, food for several days, and small pack stoves. We also had first aid equipment, extra ammo and cold weather clothes, and rain gear. We were also certain that we had the required hunter orange clothes for the trip. We had acquired 7.5 minute USGS maps of the area we expected to hunt, as well. I carried my small pack around doing yard work for a couple of weekends to get the equipment comfortably arranged and be certain that equipment was accessible and the pack would hold up.
TO BE CONTINUED......
Written by Texas Outdoors
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 18:07
PROLOGUE – DECEMBER 2011
I have long owed a debt to a very close friend. I have carried this debt in my heart for a very long time, and I promised myself someday I’d tell the story for others to read.
Dogs and outdoors activities go together in so many ways. As a hunter, I dreamed for years of having a dog to train and share my hunting time with. At the time, I couldn’t talk myself into paying a premium for a pedigreed bird dog. I had trained a couple of other dogs for various things and figured I could start with a dog with some basic instincts and get him to do what I wanted.
Hector taught me humility. We were told he was an Irish Setter/Labrador cross. After he reached maturity, we figured it was Irish Setter/Newfoundland, so he didn’t have the retrieving machine instinct I had hoped for. On the other hand, he became a local legend with pheasants. As it turned out, he trained me. I’d never win a field trial, but he got me where we could handle an upland game field pretty well!
Hector graced my life for thirteen years. Back when heartworm medicine was a daily affair during mosquito season, apparently one fall, we failed to give it quite long enough. I felt like we failed him, but I think he understood. Life must go on. I often hear that if you’re lucky, you get one good dog. I’ve had a a few dogs, and several that I was very close to, but only one that managed to reach so deep into my life and heart. This is for Hector, told from my point of view. In fact, it’s my little dialogue.
“Hello, I was wondering if this is the correct number for the puppies you advertised. Half Irish Setter and half Labrador? MAYBE Labrador, huh? He was good at fence jumping, you say? Only five dollars? Your town is behind Cannon Air Base over in New Mexico, right? Then I’ll be there in about an hour. You see I just got out of college and am teaching in a small town in Texas. I’d like an outdoor dog that might retrieve ducks. With all the ducks around here, the local farmers just about welcome you over to shoot the ducks, and I thought maybe I could train a pup like this. Oh, the mother doesn’t get in the water? Well, I think I can train one of them. You say they’re only 4 weeks old but getting too big for your yard. I think I’d like to see them!”
Later, that day.
“Look, honey, that big clumsy one that came running out first. He is chewing my shoe lace and pulling my pant legs. I can work with him. He’s solid black and as big as the 3 month old Cocker at the vets, and he’s only 4 weeks old. I think I’ll call him Hector. He’ll grow into that name, you bet! I can call him Heck!”
“Well, Honey, I am already starting to train Hector. He is already up to 25 pounds and will go get the tennis ball three times before he quits and goes back to sit on the porch. I’m going to bring back one of those teal when I get back from puddle jumping, and hold it in his mouth and get him used to ducks. He’s gonna be GREAT!”
“Hey Honey, did you see Hector? I walked with him over to the prairie dog town, so he could get used to the shooting, but as soon as I fired the first shot, he headed off to the house. Now that he’s nearly 30 inches at the shoulders, he can get home a lot faster than I can. Yeah, there he is snoozing on the porch.”
“Hey, Tom, long time since we talked. I’m hoping for a good waterfowl season next year. We’ve got a lot of tailwater pits lined up. I’m still trying to get Hector trained to retrieve. He will run after the ball three times, and then hide the ball in the weeds and go sit on the porch. I’m beginning to wonder which one of us is getting trained.”
JULY 4th, 1976
“Listen to that dog moan. Seems like a few little fireworks blocks away have him scared to death! I guess I’ll bring him in. Hope it doesn’t mean he’s gun shy!”
“Sorry coach. Yeah, I know you were real proud of your German Shepherd, but if you wanted to avoid problems, you shouldn’t have sic’d him on Hector. Yeah, I know he doesn’t look like a fighter, but he always runs over aggressive dogs like that, and when ‘Killer’ started after him, Hector just kept running back and forth knocking him down every time. I’m sorry for your dog. I’m pretty sure he’ll come back out of your garage in a week or so. It’s that 9 yard stride of Hector’s. I don’t think he really hurt ‘Killer’.”
“Hey, Jim, Let’s go out and get some teal. It’s early season. I’ve been training Heck. He’ll follow hand signals, which he’s really good at, and come, at least most of the time he’ll come. Well, he did yesterday. I’m going to bring back a teal to get Hector to hold and heel.”
“Hey Tom, watch this. That mallard hen over there is down and can’t fly. I’m going to position Hector right over him.”
“See, I’ve got him standing right over the duck. Now, Heck, PICK ‘IM UP!! NO!! NOOO! NOOOO!”
“Yes, Tom, that’s the first time I’ve seen a dog pee on a duck like that. Maybe it was a mistake force training him with the ducks in his mouth. Or it is possible he’s just not a hunter?”
LATER THAT MONTH
“Honey, you’ll never guess where I found Heck. He got loose in the snow storm, and had run over to the gin down the road. He was running around and around a cotton trailer. There was something under the trailer. When I called him, he ran under the trailer, and flushed about 30 pheasants out from under the trailer. I know where we’ll be come pheasant season next week.”
“Back, Heck. Good dog!”
“I don’t know. I wish I could say I trained him. He just takes to the field naturally. But he doesn’t retrieve. He bounces up and down like a kangaroo. I think he’s looking up and down the rows for birds. Never seen it before. And he automatically works back and forth in front of all six hunters. He’s flushed more birds than we have ever seen. Yesterday, we worked a fence line, and he busted out through the brush piles, and got me bunnies as well as a limit of pheasants When he gets too far out of range, I call him, and when he needs to go ahead, I just tell him BACK.”
“Whoa, Heck. Good Dog. Now Back!”
“No, I don’t know. He just figured it out, too. Maybe he’ll work out after all.”
“Yeah, I brought Hector along on this scout trip. I’m scoutmaster (as a result of an election held when I was gone) and we are going to spring campout here, and its still COLD at night. I figured I’d have Hector in my camper shell and he could help keep me warm. You’d think a 120 pound dog would be warm. Well, I guess he was, but he just curled up in a ball and not only didn’t help me get warm, but pushed me out of my spot in the truck. But the scouts love him. He went along on an epic snipe hunt along the edge of the caprock last night, and stayed up by the campfire. The kids love him! Now I get to ride back in the pickup cab with a wet smelly dog. It’s worth it!”
“Hey, Honey. It’s funny when you hold your cookie over your head and Hector reaches up without leaving the ground and takes it away. He didn’t even touch your fingers!”
JULY 4th, 1976
“Well, he’s still afraid of fireworks. I guess if there’s game to hunt, he doesn’t worry about it, but a few kids 5 blocks away with a string of Black Cat firecrackers . . . .”
“I dunno, Jim. Every time I work with him, he retrieves the tennis ball three times, then stuffs it in the weeds. Lately, it’s been in that corner where he does his business. I think Hector is trying to tell me something. I’m worried that he’s not going to turn out to be the duck hunter I was hoping for!”
“Well, lookie there! Hector has brought back all 5 doves I managed to hit! Maybe there’s hope, yet.”
“Sorry officer. He always tried to ride behind my head on the pickup seat.”
“Yes, sir. I know he’s way to big. It is just hard to keep him over on his side while I’m driving a manual shift truck!”
“I like your 260 Z car, Tom. I’m sorry Hector has crawled in and won’t get out. I think maybe he’s upset that we didn’t take him along. If you can push him over and drive around the block, I think he’ll get out when you get back.”
10 MINUTES LATER
“See, it worked. Now, we’ll see if he can get the ducks out of the ponds for us.”
2 HOURS LATER
“I’m sorry about that. The only duck you got, and he did it again. That’s the SECOND time I’ve seen a dog do that!”
“Hey, Charlie. You gonna be able to get your thousand bucks back from the trainer you sent your German Shorthair off to? Seems like it’s Hector 4 pheasants and 6 quail to, what is it, yeah NOTHING! Oh, yeah, and a RABBIT.” (Shootin’ rabbits in front of bird dogs is a SIN, but Hector never seemed to mind.)
“Yeah, I know, he’s not supposed to bring it back to the shooter, but that seems to be his idea. He brings it to the guy who got the bir………HECTOR!! Gee WHIZ! What are you rolling in??? That calf was not WELL! OH, gosh, you’re going to have to ride back in my truck! YUCK!!”
“Oh, I like that. Big black and shiny, with a mouth filled with bright white ivory, so he’s a Steinway Setter! Like a grand piano. I get it! The neighbor lady sez that when she came back, she saw two eyes and all those white teeth glaring out of the darkness, and yelled ‘Hector, is that you?’ and he came up wagging that massive tail and slobbering all over. Made her feel safe!”
“Yeah, I bring old Hector with me every time I can, which is almost daily during duck season, but he and I have an agreement, I won’t ask him to get a duck, and he won’t pee on it any more! If there is a bunny or quail to flush, he knows what to do. We’re both just waiting for pheasant season. Too bad I couldn’t convince him to carry a duck, but he’s good company.”
“Thanks for the invite to hunt your field, sir. I appreciate being included in your traditional family hunt. Oh, yes, I understand, I’ll be there with Hector. He’ll be fed and ready to hunt.”
“Thank you sir. He’s a natural. I think he trained me…… OMIGOSH!! Hector, get OFF of that cow pie!! Gee whiz, I’m just getting last year’s mess out of my truck cab!”
“Honey, you think your Dad would take Hector while I go back to college. We won’t have room where we’re staying. He’s been a good bird dog. We can go see him every weekend, and I’ll take him hunting when I can.”
JULY 4th, 1978
“Hi, Howard. How’s Hector doing?”
“Yeah, he always whines and moans like that while they’re shooting off fireworks. Nope, he doesn’t seem to be gun shy when there’s birds to chase! He’ll be fine!”
“Thanks for the invite, Greg. Yes, I hunt pheasants. We can drive up to your place opening morning. Mind if I bring old Hector. He’s quite the pheasant dog. He handles a field like no one else.”
“Yep, we got limits for EVERYONE. And he brings the birds back to the guy that hunts. I’m just sorry about you feeling guilty, Terry. But I don’t think he’s judging your shooting. Well, maybe he is just a bit disappointed, it was a nice bunch of roosters!”
“Oh my GOSH, knock him off that cow pie!! It’s a FRESH one. I have to drive all the way back to Lubbock with him in the cab!!”
“Yea, Greg. Well, I’d rather bring Hector myself. I can get there in time for opening. I think he’ll do even better this year.”
“Well, you guys are yelling ‘Come BACK!’ The last thing he hears is BACK, that means to hunt ahead! I’m the one who’s supposed to yell at him”
“Stupid cow flops!!”
“Thanks, Howard. I appreciate you keeping him while we were in school these years. I know you and Hector are close. I think I can hunt him a lot where we’re moving. There are a lot of birds in Lamb County, and we’ll be in a real small town.”
“Hey, Greg, it’s great to get back together again and hunt the birds, like we did in college. For me, it’s only about a half hour drive. You had to fly up from Lake Jackson. Yeah, Hector is still flushing and retrieving. He’s a real machine on pheasants, but don’t ask him to get a duck. HECTOR, GET OFF THAT COW PIE!”
“Thanks for the chance to hunt your in-law’s farm, Doug. Hector and I love pheasant hunting. He’s slowed down a bit, and works well with just the two of us. It’s been pretty dry this year, and he has trouble smelling them when it’s ……. YUCK, I didn’t know you had calves here!! Hector, get off that!”
JULY 4th, 1983
“Gee Whiz, the neighbors are getting TIRED of his whining. I guess he’ll have to spend the night inside! Too many fireworks!”
“No, doctor, we try to give him his daily pill to prevent heartworm from the first warm nights in early spring until the first hard freeze in the fall. I guess he got heartworm from a late season mosquito. I know it is dangerous to treat an older dog, especially one that has lived his whole life outside for heartworm. We’ll take care of him.”
“You should have seen it, Honey. He and I were tired. I had helped him up that last ditch, and I got out my sandwich and thermos, and shared a late lunch in the field with Hector. Greg wasn’t there this year, so it was just Hector and me. After about 30 minutes, I got up, and a pheasant had been hiding in the overgrown grass at the edge of the field, and flushed. I shot and clipped bird hard, but he kept flying. Hector jumped up like he was a kid, and followed the bird nearly a half mile, and brought him back. The guy who was harvesting cotton in the next section got off his stripper, and drove over to tell me it was the best retrieve he ever saw and shook my hand. I could only whisper ‘Thank you’. I sat with the pheasant and Hector’s head in my lap until the sun went down. Had to pick him up and get him in the pickup.”
JULY 4th, 1988
“I worry, honey. I don’t think he can hear the fireworks. We’ll keep him in the kitchen.”
JULY 6th, 1988
“Doctor, I know he’s bad. I’ve been bringing his food over to him when he whines for it, but today, he couldn’t eat. I think it’s time, he’s so miserable now. I’ll hold him, if you don’t mind. You give him the shot. I think he understands.”
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